Iolanthe – Review

Cambridge University G. & S. Society
reviewed by Jenni Balow

The Cambridge University Gilbert and Sullivan Society is away with the fairies in the nicest possible way this week, sprouting wings for a Savoy Opera involving the House of Lords.

It’s a bemusing plot. How on earth did Gilbert and Sullivan hit on the idea of linking fairyland with the excessively blue-blooded peers of the realm in 1882? Ah, yes, possibly an opportunity to poke fun at the Parliamentarians of the day.

We’ve all come to expect the best from this society, and once again, after two weeks of intense rehearsal at a base in nearby Paul village, they have woven their magic. Director Davina Barron and assistant director Becky Shercliff have teamed up for a second year with choreographer Helen Bernacki, and several of its actors, after last season’s very successful Ruddigore at the Minack.

Matt Elliot-Ripley zaps around the stage as half-man, half-fairy, Strephon, with a fairy brain, invisible to his fairy waist, but a “gibbering idiot” downwards into his mortal legs – the issue of a liaison 24 years earlier between fairy Iolanthe (Janekke Dupre) and “a handsome youth” – resulting in banishment by the furious Fairy Queen (Katie Walton).

Freddie Tapner is the expansive Lord Chancellor, having huge lungfuls of breath and an unfailing memory for the “long song” in company with a hunting, shooting and fishing set of peers of the realm, including Lord Tolloller (Declan Corr) and Lord Mountararat (William Morland) – Tory on top, with Radical legs, they must be Liberal Conservatives!

Whatever they are, the lords have all fallen for the delightful Phyllis (Helen Oxenham) who is a ward of court. She in turn fancies the fairy, Strephon, so there’s quite a tussle for her affection, and lots happens under an enormous illuminated curly wurly tree designed and created by Laura Sutcliffe, David Stansby and team.

An engaging fairy chorus flits hither and thither, nattily dressed by costume designer Hannah Roper, and lit by William Wykeham. Musical directors Josh Roberts and Benjamin Norris and the orchestra are superb, as are the voices of the entire cast in Emily Newton’s production, with a whimsical cameo by Robert Brocklehurst as Private Willis.
And don’t leave your seats for too long during the interval as this energetic company sweeps you into the second act with a spot of cabaret.