Robert Tanitch reviews Iolanthe at Richmond Theatre, Surrey
If you want to know what fairies look like, do you look at paintings of fairies by William Blake, Henry Fuseli, Richard Dadd and Theodore von Holst?
Or do you go to the ballet, Peter Pan and A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Have you seen Max Reinhardt’s 1935 film with Mickey Rooney as Puck?
Do you believe in fairies? Hermione Gingold, when asked, famously replied, “Believe in them!! Half my friends are fairies.”
In Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, the hero (Richard Carson) is half fairy, half mortal (fairy above the belt, mortal below, if you want to know). He is in love with a ward of chancery (Joe Henry); but she doesn’t fancy marrying a man whose mother, Iolanthe (Christopher Finn) looks younger than he does.
Besides what’s the advantage in being only half a fairy? By the end of this comic opera everybody is a fully fledged fairy.
I was never a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan until I saw Joseph Pap’s hilarious The Pirates of Penzance at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
I also have happy memories of the first time I saw Sasha Regan’s all-male production of Pirates in Wilton’s Music Hall.
There is nothing original about an all-male production of Gilbert and Sullivan. The British public schools used to do them all the time in the first 50 years of the 20th century.
What was new was that it was a professional company doing it; and that they didn’t (as some people might think) turn it into a gay drag show. The boys did not camp it up. There was no sexual innuendo, not even when they kissed on the lips.
Regan’s all-male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan are good clean fun for the whole family.
Iolanthe is a satire on politics, the House of Lords, the hereditary system, the legislature, Arcadian lovers and fairies. When it premiered in 1882 it ran for 398 performances.
Duncan Sandilands as Private Willis gets the second half off to a good start and Alastair Hill as the Lord Chancellor is on top of the patter songs.
The production may be over-choreographed and the humour over-egged ; but Regan’s dainty tripping winged fairies are certainly more convincing than ENO’s hefty, galumphing, middle-aged women in their bright and vulgar costumes who looked as if they were in a circus or working in a Paris bordello.
Loudly let the trumpets bray! Iolanthe is touring the UK and can be seen in Windsor, Beverley, Bridlington, Exeter, Bath, Brighton, Cambridge, Malvern, Shrewsbury and Greenwich.