Writer: W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
Director: Sasha Regan
Reviewer: Cathy Swaby
Gilbert and Sullivan’s uproarious satirical operetta Iolanthe is a must see this week at Brighton’s Theatre Royal, a somewhat miniature Savoy, the home of the 1882 original show, with its velvet Victorian interiors. Iolanthemay be antiquated but it is classic, and the mischievous references spark intrigue and tears of laughter from a crowd and have done for over a century. It is a story of two worlds colliding and of political difference which will always stand the test of time.
The opening scene kick-starts the proceedings with a rebellious nature, as the cheeky cast arrive from the theatre aisles and loges, whispering and conspiring as they invade the stage with torchlight, leaving us wondering who these rude late arrivals are. As they leap and prance about the stage, the show begins and we are introduced to a delightful gang of singing, dancing faeries.
Iolanthe’s fairy kingdom is a delightful world of immortal, beautiful beings gliding across the stage, both delicately and comically. The hypnotising Christopher Finn plays Iolanthe and we soon learn that this character has been banished from the land for having married a ‘mortal’. She has had a son, Strephon, whose genetic mix makes his top half fairy and bottom half man, a whimsical metaphor for the split lives shown before us.
Strephon, played by the handsome Richard Carson who is sadly not one of the strongest performers, is in love with Phyllis (Joe Henry), the desirable Ward of the Chancery, and they are due to be married. However, immortal fairies stay young forever and when Phyllis witnesses her lover embracing Iolanthe, who is, of course, his mother, all hell breaks loose as the world of Parliament and Liberation fight against each other in what is essentially a quest for true love, pushing their inherent differences to one side.
The Fairy Queen, portrayed by the fabulous Richard Russell Edwards, leads the show in terms of glamorous presence. In charge of the fairies, she is soon weakened herself by her lust towards a mortal, and her lines and camp facial expressions are spotless in terms of pantomime dame comical timing.
The farcical side of Iolanthe is what makes it exceptional, and alongside the beautiful score from Gilbert, every scene has the audience surprised and guffawing with adlib moments from this excellent cast. The set is stark but the intensity and movement of the characters on stage means no flamboyant background is needed, and with simple lighting it embodies what the original production (which was the first theatre show to fully use electric lighting) would have resembled.
Sasha Regan’s sparkling 16 male ensemble is a respectful and tasteful nod to the Gilbert and Sullivan style and adds humour and awe as the extraordinary performances keep us entertained on many levels. The pretty fairies with their ballet movements contrast wonderfully with the euphonious vocals and bellowing libretto. The Lord Chancellor and his group of gurning merry parliamentary men are a testosterone-fuelled party of prats, who attempt to fight for the attention of Phyllis once she is feeling outcast by Strephon.
We are taken on a melodious and rapid-paced journey of two worlds as they begin to merge and find themselves adjoined as the story unfolds before us, with onlookers perched on their seats. To those who usually would
Immortal in its own splendour, Iolanthe continues to leave audiences applauding and shouting ‘Bravo!’. It is cheeky, anarchic and above all a hoot that will leave you in the safe knowledge that the Peers really are away with the faeries…
Runs until 23 June 2018 | Image: Contributed