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Charles Court Opera presents


by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan

Director and Choreographer: John Savournin


Musical Director: David Eaton


Set Designer:   James Perkins


Costume Designer:  Mia Wallden


Lighting:   Jason Kirk


Pleasance Theatre

14 – 25 Oct 09







A review by Barry Grantham for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Of all the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas Iolanthe’ is, for me, the most redolent of the time of its creation – no, it isn’t dated, in fact it’s quite relevant to today’s concerns and Gilbert’s wit is still sharp and his satires surprisingly harsh, but you see it’s the ‘Fairies’. Today ‘Fairies’ are out – definitely out - though perhaps some new writer will arise to do for Fairies what J.K.Rowling has done for wizards, you never know.  Till then, fairies are out, but in 1882 when Gilbert penned ‘Iolanthe’ they were ‘in’ in a big way. There were fairies at the bottom of everybody’s garden, Fairies books of Fairytales, Fairies in shop windows, in grottos and groves, Fairies at the Royal Academy of Arts, and at Drury Lane in the panto that ran for half the year and it was not to be so long before two young girls succeeded in photographing them to the delight of Mr Conan Doyle. You see Iolanthe is a fairy. And she marries a mortal and has a child who is human below the belt and fairy above. Well, put yourself in the mind-cast of the 1880’s and you’ll find it charming. If you’re determined to stay in 2009 you may just find it silly.  The present production succeeds by being both charming and gloriously silly. After a suitably stirring overture with intimations of the impingement of the fairy world, really quite beautiful musically and played, as they do throughout, quite dazzlingly by David Eaton and James Young  -four expert hands at the pianoforte

Enter the Fairies -  three of the sexiest fairies you could hope to meet on an autumnal eve. (Rosie Strobel, Charlotte Wooll-Rivers and Karen Richmond) They prance and dance and chant and generally misbehave until the arrival of a rather motherly Queen of the Fairies (Kristin Finnigan) who summonses Iolanthe (Anne-Marie Cullum) from the depths of the ditch, down-stage left, in which she has been hiding for the last twenty four years.

Next, we are introduced to her son, our half-fairy hero, Strephon (John Savournin) an Arcadian shepherd, (though his costume gives no hint of his rural pursuit.) Then we meet the love of his life, the entirely human Phyllis, (Georgia Ginsberg) a shepherdess, but again there is nothing to indicate of this, and one of my few critical questions is why the producers have chosen to dress her as Shirley Temple. Perhaps just more silliness, and I’m not one to be upset by yet another pair of shapely legs.

The rest of the cast are all male and infallibly human, the Peers of the House of Lords. (Still surviving - just, Lord bless them, after over a hundred years of satire from Gilbert to Private Eye)  and with them we are into the usual G & S high jinks – chorals, trios, duets and solo, rival proposals, refined lusting, misunderstandings, and chop logic.

As far as anything in the way of critical censorship goes I can only mention that although vocalization was all that could be desired, diction was not always up to the demands of Gilbert’s lyrics when taken at the requisite full gallop.  Exceptions are Simon Butteriss as The Lord Chancellor, the hero John Savournin, himself (I say ‘himself’ because he was responsible for direction and choreography – clever feller) and - exceptionally so, Martin Lamb as Private Willis as the private soldier who opens the second act.

Gilbert and Sullivan is a major part of our British heritage, along side Dickens, Jane Austin and even Shakespeare.  The lyrics of Gilbert are unequalled and Sullivan’s music is frequently on a par with grand opera (as he always thought it was)   On Thursday the auditorium was not as packed as it should have been. A couple of weeks ago I saw and reviewed Yeoman of the Guard performed within the environs of the Tower itself – a vast affair with a packed audience of some 4.000, all, with few exceptions being persons of some antiquity; so that at a rough calculation the combined age of the audience totalled around 260,000 years!  Now here we have a problem –  The young either know not of it, or avoid it as some plague that might be caught from their grandparents; the middle-aged retain memories of  tired performances in the last days of copyright by the D’Oyly Carte, or pathetic amateur productions so the great Gilbert and Sullivan opus is now in the province of the very elderly. So get yourself along to the Pleasance and try to take a few youngsters along with you –and if they are not entirely stuck in their ways (youth is even more intractable than old age) they will enjoy’ ‘Iolanthe’ in the fresh and appealing production by the Charles Court Opera.



Dates:   14th -25th October 2009 at 7.30pm SUNDAYS AT 5PM

Venue: Pleasance Theatre, Carpenter Mews, North Rd. London, N7 9EF
(5 min walk from Caledonian Rd Tube Station)

Box Office:  020 7609 1800

Tickets: Fri/Sat £14.50/£12.50 
Wed/Thurs/Sun £12/£1O





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