Review: Iolanthe, Richmond Theatre

A much welcome revival for Sasha Regan’s all-male Iolanthe, bringing Gilbert and Sullivan to Richmond Theatre as part of a UK tour

“What’s the use of being half a fairy?”

Delving into deep into your wardrobe can get you into all sorts of bother. With CS Lewis, you could end up in the wintry woods of Narnia and with Sasha Regan, you might find yourself in the dress-up fantasy world of light operetta. Of all of her all-male Gilbert and Sullivan productions, Iolanthe is the one which I remember most fondly (its transfer to Wilton’s Music Hall perfectly done) so the news that it was the choice for this year’s revival for a UK tour left me tripping hither and thither in excitement. 

And though I was a little apprehensive to revisit so beloved a production, this Iolanthe has stood up well. Mark Smith’s choreography with its suggestions of sign language for fairy speak, Stewart Charlesworth’s design making full use of the jumble box aesthetic, and Regan’s astute direction milking a show that’s more than a century old for all of its considerable comic potential and finding room for her own innovations as well. With MD Richard Baker controlling the music from his solo piano, this remains an arresting take on your G&S. Continue reading “Review: Iolanthe, Richmond Theatre”

Review: Joking Apart, Union Theatre

“Don’t you have any normal friends?”

The next all-male Gilbert and Sullivan production at the Union (Patience) appears to be taking place early next year rather than taking the pre-festive slot that one has become accustomed to over the last couple of years, and instead we’re being treated to a bit of Alan Ayckbourn with his 21st comedy Joking Apart. Despite his reputation, I’ve never really connected with Ayckbourn in my limited experience of his work, the revival of Snake in the Grass being a notable exception, and not even a truly stellar cast could rescue Season’s Greetings for me at the National. But the Union have a strong track record in creating effective small-scale productions and so I was intrigued to see how this would go.

Spread over 12 years, Joking Apart visits blissfully happy couple Richard and Anthea in their back garden at four-yearly intervals, following their relationship with the friends and neighbours around them and how those connections alter over time. From Bonfire Night in 1970 to a balmy summer Friday evening in 1982, with a Boxing Day and a random Sunday morning inbetween, we see how they interact with the earnest vicar and his highly strung wife, Richard’s Scandinavian business partner and wife, and his junior colleague Brian with his succession of young girlfriends. Continue reading “Review: Joking Apart, Union Theatre”

Review: Dames at Sea, Union

“So sweet and soft and gentle,
My favourite Oriental”

The Union Theatre have definitely identified their niche in London’s cluttered theatre landscape: small-scale revivals of musicals that might otherwise have languished in obscurity with productions that are big on ambition. The latest show to get the Union St treatment is Dames at Sea, a 1966 parody of 1930s musicals with book and lyrics by George Haimshon and Robin Miller and music by Jim Wise which much like The Drowsy Chaperone, grew from its beginnings as a short sketch into a full show.

Though it was entertaining enough, I couldn’t help but feel that this was the Union treading water rather than blowing our socks off with something great. The piece itself is a show about putting on a show – it feels like they all are at the moment! – the cast of a musical have to find a new venue as their theatre is being pulled down but the arrival of a ship full of sailors with connections to the chorus offers a solution. Stuffed full of clichés from the small-town girl arriving on Broadway with nothing but her dreams, the big diva who then feels threatened, the sailor who just happens to be an amazing songwriter, chance meetings with former partners a-plenty, the list goes on… Continue reading “Review: Dames at Sea, Union”

Re-review: Iolanthe, Wilton’s Music Hall

“I am not insensible to manly beauty”

Sasha Regan’s Iolanthe, as it has been billed, is the latest of the now regular all-male Gilbert & Sullivan productions that the Union Theatre has put on and following the cat-like-tread of Pirates of Penzance last year, this also makes the transfer to the glorious Wilton’s Music Hall, tucked away in East London. It ranked as my 20th best show last year, the 9th best musical and one of its performers, Matthew James Willis made it to second place in the Best Supporting Actor in a Musical category of the fosterIANs so it was no surprise that a return engagement would be made to the show.

My review of the original production can be read here and I won’t recap it as much of what I said then remains as applicable now in how wonderful this show is in capturing a gorgeously innocent feel, free of sneering or post-modern archness which is no mean feat given the number of men dressed up as fairies singing falsetto. There’s a deep sincerity to these interpretations that is maintained here so that whilst there may be other productions that are better sung technically, I doubt there are any which have the same reverential irreverence, in perfectly capturing what G&S is about whilst going about it in a radically different way. This post will concentrate mainly on the differences between the two productions, a compare and contrast exercise if you will, although I won’t be focusing on how few shuttlecocks there were here by comparison. Continue reading “Re-review: Iolanthe, Wilton’s Music Hall”

Review: Iolanthe, Union Theatre

“He’s a fairy down to the waist, but his legs are mortal”

Sasha Regan’s All-Male Iolanthe marks the third Gilbert and Sullivan show to receive the Union Theatre treatment in what is fast becoming an annual tradition of great quality. Last year’s Pirates of Penzance was hugely well-received transferring to both Wilton’s Music Hall and the Rose in Kingston so expectation was high for this lesser-known (by me at least!) show. What is it about? Well, the Lord Chancellor of England is in love with Phyllis, his shepherdess ward who loves Strephon, the half-fairy shepherd whose mother, Iolanthe, was condemned by the Fairy Queen to live at the bottom of a river for marrying a mortal, who is none other than the Lord Chancellor. Thus the House of Lords and the legal profession come in for a bit of a battering as the fairies wreak their mischievous havoc in order to ensure everyone gets their happy ending.

With such a convoluted plotline and a considerable number of characters in the ensemble, I can’t imagine there’s much room for manoeuvre in putting an effective, individual interpretation on the show but Sasha Regan really has done a fabulous job here in choosing a framework which neatly sidesteps a whole world of difficulties but provides its own emotional reference points, complemented beautifully by Stewart Charlesworth’s design . When the fairies first arrived, there was a collective intake of breath as we worked out whether it was OK to laugh or not but after just a couple of beats, as it suddenly becomes evident what the framing device is (look at what the costumes are made from…), everyone relaxed into the genial mood. Yes, the constant references to fairies and mentions of a midnight assignation in St James’ Park caused many a titter from the audience but the tone is always an affectionate one, it is silly but not too silly, it is camp but not too camp, above all it is rip-roaring great fun. Continue reading “Review: Iolanthe, Union Theatre”