United Kingdom Gilbert & Sullivan, Iolanthe: Soloists, chorus and orchestra of Manchester Universities Gilbert & Sullivan Society / Joe Hearson (conductor), Students’ Union Hall, Manchester, 22.3.2018. (RJW)
Lord Chancellor – Stuart Dunlop
Earl of Mountararat – Jordan Harding-Pointon
Earl Tolloller – Joe Heritage
Private Willis – Malcolm Gray
Strephon – Miles Docherty
Queen the Fairies – Phoebe Watts
Iolanthe – Lucy Farrimond
Phyllis – Charlotte Kennedy
Director – Neale Franklin
Musical Director – Joe Hearson
These university students regularly mount good productions Gilbert & Sullivan and this year is no exception. They have used a number of venues over recent years and this time they thought they’d convert their well-equipped union hall for a theatre-in-the-round production with the audience flanked on three sides of a rectangular acting area—with an arcadian landscape with waterfall at one end and the interior of the House of Peers at the other. The settings by Sam Amis and Scott Bagshaw worked well, helped by modern LED lighting.
The large orchestra played magnificently throughout, and the tempi set by Joe Hearson were just right. Helped by the hall’s dry acoustics, no voice was ever drowned, so clarity was good. The chorus may have been smaller than in previous years, but they made up for a lack of numbers in the strength of singing for ‘Tripping hither’ and the Peers ‘Bow, bow, ye tradesmen’ was excellent.
Of the soloists the laurels surely go to Lord Mountararat (Jordan Harding-Pointon), Iolanthe (Lucy Farrimond), Strephon (Miles Docherty) and Phyllis (Charlotte Kennedy) for the quality of singing throughout. Stuart Dunlop enunciated his nightmare patter song with excellent clarity and added appropriate mimes to amplify what he was singing. He played the part effectively but could have benefitted from make-up to advance his years and a wig to help believability in the character. A neat twist was to stand at a bar littered with legal volumes and have drinks served from one of its drawers during ‘When I went to the bar’. It was good to see a confident Private Willis (Malcolm Gray) in full Grenadier Guards uniform, complete with bearskin hat. Joel Heritage as Lord Tolloller put good meaning into the number ‘Blue blood’. What is quite amazing is the fact that Gilbert’s words are timeless and never come across to the audience as old fashioned.
Neale Franklin’s production was well rehearsed and by playing the latter half of Act I in the House of Lords, Gilbert’s script fitted admirably. The fairies with LED trimmed wings and sparkling lipstick was a new slant and looked effective. The event deserves to be well attended.
Raymond J Walker