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BWW Review: IOLANTHE, The Roman Theatre St Albans


The Charles Court Opera Company go on the road with their beautiful boutique production of one of Gilbert and Sullivan's most loved operas.

BWW Review: IOLANTHE, The Roman Theatre St Albans

BWW Review: IOLANTHE, The Roman Theatre St Albans Rather like the stories of PG Wodehouse, the operas of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan consistently return to similar themes, similar characters, similar plots - but this is no bad thing! So we've our usual allocation of pouting wards of court, pompous judges and absurd Parliamentarians - England's establishment being poked with a stick that has more barbs than those new to their work might expect, especially with a little list of 21st century references thrown in.

The Charles Court Opera Company have been doing this stuff for years, and if they've negotiated the playing space of The King's Head (not much larger than Leonard Sachs' pulpit on The Good Old Days) what's a little rain and some noises off from a church bell to them? And if we're in a Roman theatre in a Roman town, well, that's also a most English setting for this most English of operas?

The plot is crazy of course: Iolanthe, banished from Fairyland, is recalled by her Queen and is soon doing her best for her son, Strephon (half-fairy, half-mortal natch) who's mooning over blonde-in-boots Phyllis. His trouble is that the object of his affections is also being pursued by half of the peers of the realm, including the Lord Chancellor himself, whose ward she is and whose consent she requires to marry. After the usual confusion, comeuppance for shameless self-serving and feelgood romantic resolutions, they all live happily ever after - but you knew that anyway, didn't you?

It's all so lovely. David Eaton, looking a bit like Joe 90 inside his rain-resistant polythene bubble, provides Sullivan's timeless tunes and John Savournin takes on directing duties ensuring the verve that characterises this company's work is maintained.

The romantic leads, Matthew Kellett and Llio Evans, have their fair share of fun as Strephon and Phyllis, Kellett getting just the right level of entitlement that a politician in charge of both governing and opposition parties would enjoy, and Evans finding a touch of Marilyn Monroe (were she dressed by Burberry) for her glamourpuss orphan.

The real larks come from the fairies and the politicians whose worlds collide. Richard Suart nails the patter of the Lord Chancellor's "Nightmare Song" and Matthew Siveter and David Menezes convince as hopeless suitors fearful that the House of Lords may be opened up to people of intellect and not merely of breeding. Natalie Davies, Meriel Cunningham, Catrine Kirkman and Jennie Jacobs flit about as fairies do, but with none of Tinkerbell's melancholy, just the joie de vivre of fairyland allied to a rather broad interpretation of its laws. I hope a little fairy magic was deployed to dry out their ballet shoes!

The singing, always at the heart of this company's work, is well up to the usual standard. With the use of radio mics, the voices do not get lost in the open air environment, but, equally importantly, do not overpower the music either. That's just as it should be since Sullivan's tunes and Gilbert's wit really are timeless - melodies and mendacity will always be with us.

Iolanthe is at the Open Air Roman Theatre, St Albans on 17 June and on tour.

Photo Credit: Philip Lee.

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