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All Male Iolanthe

by on 17 May 2018

Other-Worldliness of Delight


by W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan

Sasha Regan’s All Male Iolanthe

Regan De Wynter Williams at Richmond Theatre until 19th May, then on tour until 28th July.

A review by Eleanor Marsh

Let us get the preconception elephants out of the room first. They are:

1 – Iolanthe is a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, therefore it must be dated and boring.
2 – This is an all-male version so must cheapen the material and be played totally for laughs.

Neither is accurate and if this review can make just one person who doesn’t already know G&S, or knows them so well they think that any new interpretation is sacrilege, go to see this wonderful company then my work here is done!

The purpose of any review is to “tell it like it is” with honesty and ideally without cruelty. This is not always as easy as it might seem. The problem with Sasha Regan’s All Male Iolanthe is that it is both innovative and technically excellent and leaves little – if anything to complain about.

Iolanthe 6

W.S Gilbert’s storylines are always complicated and a little silly. Iolanthe is no exception and requires more of the audience in their suspension of disbelief than most. Here, the initial premise of the discovery of a Narnian wardrobe and dressing up clothes is an excellent device to immediately transport the audience to a land of make-believe. There are later references to Neverland, too, just in case there is any danger of our forgetting that we are in a bizarre fairyland that also features the House of Lords. The antiquated appearance of the minimal set is complemented by an effective “dusty” lighting design and inspired costumes; fairies are obviously fairies because they have wings (made of bunting and other assorted haberdashery) and the Peers are obviously peers because they wear dressing gowns and hats that denote some type of “authority”. It is bizarre and wacky, and it works beautifully.

There is no reference on the programme to the pianist, so I assume that Musical Director Richard Baker is tinkling the ivories himself. He is totally exposed, with the grand pianos sited almost in the front row of the audience and is obviously enjoying playing the score. Well done to the Richmond Theatre audience for giving him a proper round of applause to himself. It is refreshing to see just the grand piano in evidence and, although there were a few musical “effects”, this pared back interpretation helped enormously to continue the “playing dressing up game” theme.

Iolanthe 13The music itself is a delight and credit must go to Mr Baker and Vocal Consultant Alan Richardson for all they’ve achieved on this show. It is not often a vocal consultant is mentioned in a review but what a job Mr Richardson has done to get all of those very obviously men to sing female roles at pitch without the necessity of a rather nasty Mediaeval surgical operation!

Iolanthe 14Now to the cast themselves. I must confess to a certain trepidation before the curtain went up and could not imagine how this whole event was to be pulled off without at least one drag queen performance slipping into the mix. I need not have worried. The female roles are all played as straight as a G&S script can be and I can only imagine the amount of study that has gone into the deportment and body language to make these chaps appear (and sound) so womanly. Joe Henry’s Phyllis would not look out of place as the ingénue in an Agatha Christie play. He also has excellent comic timing and made a role that could purely be a plot vehicle genuinely funny and engaging. Likewise, Christopher Finn as Iolanthe was delightful, and I think I had something in my eye when he sang “My Lord, a Suppliant at Your Feet”. It was beautiful.

Iolanthe 7

The male roles are equally well played and sung with just the right amount of tongue in cheek to remain respectful. I was exhausted just watching the physical jerks of Duncan Sandilands’ Private Willis (think Tom Daley crossed with Windsor Davies’ Sgt. Major Williams), who can also sing a mean bass. And top marks to Alastair Hill’s Lord Chancellor whose famous “Nightmare Song” was a joy – every word clearly articulated without losing any of the pace of a patter song.

The principals are supported by an extremely strong supporting company. The choral singing is glorious, and they can all dance, too!   Speaking of dancing, Mark Smith, the amazing choreographer for this show is deaf. He has built in sign language for the fairies, which is performed gracefully and adds enormously to the other-worldliness of the opening of the show. It is an inspired artistic device that also sends out a subliminal message of inclusivity to the audience.

In short this really is a must-see production. I urge you to throw your pre-conceptions and prejudices aside and make the most of the opportunity whilst you can – there are only three performances at Richmond Theatre left!

Eleanor Marsh
May 2018

Photography by Buckingham Photography



From → Musicals, Reviews

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