Iolanthe review at Richmond Theatre, London – ‘a well-sung, all-male staging’
A decade ago, Sasha Regan started to dust off the national institution of Gilbert and Sullivan operas and gave them a new look and a new sound with her ground-breaking all-male stagings, with falsetto sopranos and altos to the fore.
Now her inimitable productions – a perfect blend of the traditional and the entirely original – have become something of an institution themselves. First seen in 2010, her version of the 1882 comic opera in which the fairies take on the House of Lords – and win – is back for another tour.
The framing device is neat and delicately handled: a group of schoolboys come across an old vocal score of Iolanthe in a dusty wardrobe in an empty theatre, and suddenly the show comes alive before us, with the eccentric Peers in hand-me-down costumes but the fairies more appealingly glammed up: and alive it definitely is in Mark Smith’s distinctive choreography, expertly delivered by an apparently tireless company.
Sullivan’s vocal lines are no easy option, but they too are finely handled, with particularly stirring singing from Richard Russell Edwards’ grandiose Fairy Queen, Richard Carson’s debonair Strephon and Adam Pettit’s daffy Lord Tolloller, and with Duncan Sandilands’ manly bass well deployed as heartthrob guardsman Private Willis.
Skilfully timed dialogue comes over with point. There’s pathos in all the right places, with Christopher Finn’s Iolanthe tugging at the heartstrings with He Loves. Alastair Hill has a patter triumph with the Lord Chancellor’s song. Choral activities are witty and precise.
With its sparkle and sophistication, the top-drawer score is held together from the keyboard by Richard Baker, who manages to fulfil pretty well all orchestral requirements with a mere 10 fingers at his disposal.
Edges will undoubtedly sharpen as the tour proceeds: but already there’s a sense of momentum that builds throughout the evening.