Once upon a time, at a theatre near you, (be quiet, frogs!) the Savoy Arts Company presented a joyous production of IOLANTHE…

First performed in 1882 , IOLANTHE  is not as often performed as the ‘Big three’ of the Gilbert & Sullivan repertoire ( ‘The Pirates of Penzance ‘,’ HMS Pinafore’ ,’ The Mikado’)  and has a rather silly plot of fairies , peers of the realm, broken Fairy law and long lost love,  amongst other things. There is also a Shakespearean like revelation scene towards the end but overall a somewhat Pantomime feel to this production which also exemplified the Romantic ideals of the day. It can be read as a deep political satire commenting on British government and law, power politics and corruption. (And was updated with Australian political comments too in the performance) .

Director Janette Herok has guided the production with a light, sure touch. There is bare, minimalist staging, – incorporating just a low small raised set of steps /platform and some drapes. The production begins as a story told by the Fairy Queen ( very ballet class like in style ) and there is a fun prologue to the overture , that includes some very young fairies and some little silver and pink scooters .

Under the excellent, enthusiastic direction of Stephen Malloch the orchestra played Sullivan’s delicious music well. The orchestra was quite squashed in the pit , the  timpani spilling out stage left .Overall vocally and musically it was tremendous ,although there were a couple of points where the singers were temporarily drowned out by the music. If you listen carefully ,you can pick tiny musical phrases very similar to ones from ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ ,’ The Mikado ‘,’ HMS Pinafore ‘, ‘Yeomen of the Guard’ and ‘The Gondoliers’ in Sullivan’s score  , which is to be expected from the  of the fourteen operas Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated on .

Beauteous blonde Brigitte Martin as Iolanthe is stunning and sings superbly. She is captivating, sparkling and enchanting (no wonder the Lord Chancellor was enthralled). Generally she is joyously light and airy as befits a Fairy (she wears a wonderful green costume) and her pleading solo towards the end of Act2 ( My Lord ,a suppliant at your feet ) is quite sad,  dark and heartrending . Bravo

Our Fairy Queen, Anna McDougall, was tall and imposing , darkly commanding She wore an elegant long white gown with long flowing sleeves and silver makeup including on her eyelashes, and her outfit included a silver fish scale like corset front .At one point she wears a horned silver and white helmet like a Valkyrie. Her solo in Act 2 ‘O Foolish Fay’ was very moving .  

As the Lord Chancellor, Dean Sinclair is superb, a magnificent performance in the style of a Dennis Olsen or Christopher Hamilton. Sinclair is very elegant and ultra refined in his imposing black costume and wig. Yes he is lovesick (supposedly) but he is also very prim and proper. There are hints of Pooh Bah from The Mikado , especially in his ‘When I Went to the Bar’ in Act 1.  His ‘Nightmare song’ in Act 2 was brilliantly done, quite tormented.  And the trio “If you go in you’re sure to win” in Act 2, with Lords Lord Tolloller and Mountararat, stops the show uproariously.

Our young, dark glowing heroine Phyllis was well sung and acted by Jessica Di Bartolo. A vision of loveliness, she was exquisite in her floral outfits. Strephon our hero was delightfully sung by handsome Anthony Mason in fine voice. He deals with the awkward fairy double entrendes very well. His light and clear yet strong tenor is perfect for the role and his solos and ensembles are terrifically performed.

Lord Tolloller and Mountarat are wonderfully sung by Gordon Costello and Michel Handy in fine, showy performances.

‘Beefeater ‘Private Willis was excellently sung by Michael Bond (noteworthy for his solo opening   Act 2 ‘”When all night long a chap remains “ ) and helping to provide the happy ending .

The Fairy chorus was delightful and very well handled by Glenda Percival. The men’s chorus of assorted peers was in thrilling voice and very lavishly costumed (Their appearance in full Parliamentary regalia in Act 2 is hilarious).

This was a most enchanting production. The running time was 2 hours and 40 minutes including one interval. IOLANTHE runs at the Zenith Theatre, Corner Mcintosh and Railway Streets, Chatswood until September 14, 2013.