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Richmond Theatre, London

I rightly raved about ENO’s new Iolanthe back in February. Director Cal McCrystal’s laugh-a-minute makeover turns this 1882 Gilbert and Sullivan story of love between mortals and fairy folk into a thoroughly twenty-first century evening in the theatre.

However, in spite of all the spectacle that the huge forces at The Coliseum are able to bring to the piece, the revival of Sasha Regan’s All Male Iolanthe currently playing in Richmond wins hands down for originality, charm, and even – dare I say it – acting.

First seen in 2010, and astonishingly still boasting a couple of the members of the original Union Theatre cast, this pared back and re-worked version of the show uses, like other of Regan’s G & S productions, a framing device to explain away the setting and the lack of females in the ensemble.

Truth to tell, some of these have worked better than others. The framing devise for Regan’s production of HMS Pinafore was nigh-on perfect, but that for The Mikado… well, let’s just say it needed work.

I’m pleased to say though that the framing device here works admirably, especially at the end where it charmingly explains away the evening’s revels.

So, to the show itself.

I’d wondered how things would hold together without regular ‘soprano’ Alan Richardson – currently proving, as Mary Sunshine, to be the best thing about the newly revived Chicago at The Phoenix – but the cast are more than up to the task (and Richardson has, according to the programme, been on hand as vocal consultant).

Christopher Finn as Iolanthe, a returning cast member, has one of the most serious of the female roles, and I’ll admit to having a tear in my eye during the Act Two showdown between Iolanthe and the Lord Chancellor when she reveals she is, in fact, the wife he thought long dead.

Alastair Hill as the Lord Chancellor is a good twenty or thirty years younger than the men who usually play the part, but his is the first reading I’ve ever seen where I’ve believed the character could in fact be intelligent enough to have attained the rank he bears.

As Iolanthe’s son, Strephon, Richard Carson is suitably masculine – though not at all inclined towards stoutness – and comes into his own with his shepherdess intended, Phyllis, played with hilarious insouciance by Joe Henry.

Michael Burgen and Adam Pettitt are charmingly dim as peers Lord Mountararat and Lord Tolloller respectively, and Duncan Sandilands Private Willis, as well as being possessed of a fine baritone, also has a good line in press-ups.

Of the fairyland characters, Lee Greenaway as Leila (also Associate director) shows the most depth, though Dominic Harbison’s Celia runs a very close second.

The Fairy Queen, though played and sung perfectly by Richard Russell Edwards, would perhaps have carried more gravitas if cast to an actor with more heft, but that’s a very minor point.

In fact my only real criticism of the show – which I loved overall – is one of casting. As the actors are all so young, and the tessitura of the company so relatively high, there were just one or two moments – for example the entrance of the Peers – which seemed underpowered.

Still, that’s a minor point and doesn’t diminish what is, after 136 years, still a very entertaining show, which is touring. I’ve already alerted friends in Malvern that it’s not to be missed!

What would I like to see next from Sasha Regan? How about Sasha Regan’s All Male Grand Duke. Make that work, and the world will be your oyster…

  • Musical
  • Book & Lyrics: Sir W.S Gilbert
  • Music: Sir Arthur Sullivan
  • Cast includes: Alastair Hill, Richard Russell Edwards, Richard Carson, Joe Henry, Christopher Finn, Adam Pettit, Michael Burgen, Duncan Sandilands, and Company
  • Richmond Theatre, London
  • 19 May 2018

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