Reviewer's rating

Sir Arthur Sullivan had a double life. On the one hand, revered by royalty and knighted (he composed ‘onward Christian soldiers’), on the other, a louche gambler spending time in brothels. William Gilbert was an unsuccessful Middle Temple barrister.  Gilbert and Sullivan did not get on; this was not a marriage made in heaven, and yet it really was!

Iolanthe’s biting satire was one of their best, and their fourth hit running at the Savoy, during which Sullivan was knighted for services to music.  McCrystal’s over the top Midsummer Night’s Dreamlike production is his best G&S to date. The set is gorgeous, in technicolour for Arcadia, and imposing for Westminster. Lizzi Gee’s choreography is lively and entertaining, and the chorus have as much fun dancing as we have watching.

The story is suitably silly, all women are fairies; all men are Lords. We are treated to birds dashing across the stage, a unicorn, a sheep sitting in the royal box, other sheep, a flamingo and a singing cow. Fairies appear ‘tripping hither tripping thither’; enter Fairy Queen dressed like Brunnhilde with the fairies obligingly singing heigh-ho, poking fun at Wagner’s meaningless intro words in Das Rheingold.  There are clever G&S versions of Rossini patter songs.

Our hero is a shepherd, Strephon, a half fairy (from the waist up) and his beloved Phyllis, a shepherdess, a ward in Chancery. Strephon’s fairy mother Iolanthe married the Lord Chancellor. It is a sin punishable by death in fairyland to marry a mortal, but through clemency Iolanthe was banished instead.

The spectacular arrival of the Lords, punching through the scenery, falling out of their gravy train clutching a bottle, singing,’ bow ye lower middle classes’ is fun! They are a boozy lot; a Boris character frequently appears, either biking past Parliament, with Nadine Dorries, bashing the doors of the Lords in vain to be let in, or off with fellow Lords to parties with drinks in hand. Lyrics are amended reflecting contemporary satire. The curtain comes down unexpectedly during Act II as the Lord Chancellor goes to sleep. It rises as the Lord Chancellor, horrified, informs us of his terrible nightmare – I dreamt some cultural body had the idea of relocating the House of Lords to the industrial North!  Spot-on humour, and another up-to-date dig at the Arts Council.

Jokes come thick and fast, such as Strephon and Phyllis, doing a tap dance wearing heavy tap clogs, followed by an amusingly heavily clonking exit. Or Strephon, made a Lord by the Fairies, decrees entry to the Lords is by competitive examination, to the horror of the Lords. The list is endless.

Gilbert’s acquaintance with the legal system, allowed him to mercilessly lampoon the legal system and interpretation of statutes, and thus the House of Peers becomes the House of Peris (fairies).

The soloists are all excellent singers and comedians. Welsh mezzo Samatha Price as Iolanthe looks and sounds entrancing. Soprano Elli Lougharne as Phyllis and baritone Marcus Farnsworth as Strephon are well matched as the lovers (note that a baritone is the lead romantic man instead of the traditional tenor), Bass-baritone John Savournin as the Lord Chancellor, mezzo Catherine Wyn-Rogers as Queen of the Fairies and bass baritone Keel Watson as Private Willis all have impressive voices, with a special mention to British mezzo Bethan Langford stood out as Leila. I hope we hear more of her.

Conductor Chris Hopkins allows the production to hurtle frenetically at such a pace, yet holds everything together perfectly.

Flying fairies and top hatted toffs make a brilliant show, full of joy, wit, comedy, farce, panto, fantasy, satire, colour, and above all, such fun. It is a great family show; jokes and slapstick humour provide multi-level laughs for both children and adults. This is something for everyone to relish.  Do not miss it! We may never have the opportunity again, if the Arts Council have their way.

This performance at the English National Opera (ENO) is a vital arm in the body of UK opera. London would be poorer with only the other arm, the more expensive ROH. Fortunately, ENO has a temporary reprieve; hopefully it will be permanent, because to be deprived of shows as brilliant as this one, which could never be performed at ROH, is an awful option.

ENO have a policy of under 21s going free.

Chief of Ceremonies Clive Mantle warms things up in suitable panto mode.

This performance was very busy and children as young as five, loved it!

What an incredible introduction!