Westminster Gets its Ethereal Match

15/08/2019

Gilbert & Sullivan, Iolanthe: New London Opera Group / Alex Carpenter (conductor), Harrogate, Royal Hall, Yorkshire  9.8.2019. (RJW)

Act I Finale; The Chancellor confronts the Fairy Queen © Jane Stokes

Production:
Director – Chris Cann
Wardrobe – Eirian Walsh Atkins
Set – Paul Lazell
Lighting – Peter Blackmore

Cast:
Lord Chancellor – Philip Errington
Earl of Mountararat –Tony Barrister
Private Willis – Rob Sanders-Hewett
Strephon – David Anstice-Pim
Queen the Fairies – Helena Condry
Celia – Antonia Gentile
Leila – Ayesha Murchie
Fleta – Lettice Cook
Iolanthe – Laura Jamie Anstice
Phyllis – Victoria Mulley

There was plenty of fresh material in this production to interest the G&S diehards. Paul Lazell’s verdant Arcadian landscape revealed green-haired fairies in gymslips holding gilded hockey sticks instead of wands. This attire for the fairies may have complemented their ethereal hair, but the hockey sticks’ symbolism was lost on me. Fortunately for all, a possible St Trinian’s theme did not develop during the performance.

Strephon’s zany eye make-up in electric blue was intended to match that of the fairies, but eye shadow under the eyes seemed at odds with convention. After a well sung “None shall part us” by Strephon and Phyllis the duet closes the scene and then, unexpectedly, the tabs fall. The tabs rise again on the Peers chorus, which opens a second scene of the first Act. For me this change to procedure was quite acceptable even if the delay was a tad too long.

An extremely well sung March of the Peers, with numerous peers found strutting around in morning dress, top hats, and sporting field glasses filled the stage à la Ascot. A horseshoe of deck chairs seemed appropriate to the occasion. Phyllis later entered in a very elegant three-quarter-length gown in red, clearly forgetting her ties with Arcadia. However, the gown seemed more appropriate than her skimpy, ill-fitting skirt worn for the opening scene.

Private Willis delivered his Sentry song in front of the tabs and his dry humour was nicely controlled. The Chancellor’s Nightmare song was effective and clearly annunciated, while ‘If you go in’ was remembered for being well choreographed. When Willis and the Earls were transformed into fairies, Willis’s bearskin was removed the transformation revealed a mop of green hair rather than WSG’s traditional sprouting wings.

An excellently played overture boded well for the quality of musical performance that was to follow, and nobody was disappointed. Throughout, a brisk pace was set by conductor, Alex Carpenter, and the Company was impressive for the quality of singing and dialogue. All the soloists were sincere in their character portrayals and they were supported by an attentive and equally well-rehearsed chorus. The complex finales were superbly handled with the action complementing Sullivan’s vivacious and memorable music.

Raymond J Walker

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