Saturday, 22 August 2009

Iolanthe (Festival Productions)

Tonight's show was one of the several that are rehearsed during the festival, competing for people's attention, trying to put on as good a show as can possibly be done while economizing on rehearsal hours. It's amazing how many people can be found to do each of these shows; tonight we had twenty peers (including Tollollerat), and they almost didn't fit on the stage.

The show opened with great energy, a chorus of very active fairies. They were enjoying themselves, and we couldn't but enjoy ourselves watching them. Iolanthe's arrival brought its own joy, enhanced excellently by the other fairies' interest in what was happening, and by an appropriate build in the lighting. (I half expected Iolanthe to appear from underneath the bridge, but that was not to be.) The entrance of the Peers was suitably impressive, too. Everyone loves singing through the Peers' March (we've had it several times in the Festival Club, and each time the stage is crammed with men... and a few ladies come up too!), but the colorful robes and stately march make the scene even more grand. There were, as always, the few who weren't quite in time (when have you EVER seen a men's chorus that was perfectly synchronized?), but for the most part, it worked.

Several of the songs received encores. "If You Go In" even received the honour of a double encore, with appropriate stage business.

The show exhibited a fairly strong cast. Strephon (John Hurst) had energy, ease of movement, and smoothness, and although he could at times be a little too quiet to hear up in the gallery, his diction was clear. Phyllis (Penny Daw) was excellent, especially in the second act, where she plainly was not at all enjoy the company of her two noblemen. (She slipped off while they were conversing and had a drink - in fact, had quite a few drinks - kindly provided by one of the other peers. Of course, the two earls were far too busy discussing which of them would slay the other, or they might have been a bit jealous of this!) Mountararat (Stephen Godward) and Tolloller (Mark Hurford) played off each other well, and both typified snobbishness as though they had been born sneering.
We had a delightfully spry Tolloller for "If you go in", too! The Lord Chancellor (David Craig) was also quite energetic, and also had the diction and projection necessary for an audible Nightmare Song. His scene with Iolanthe (Jessica Nicklin) had real emotion to it; it's a beautiful scene when performed well. The off-stage chorus had trouble seeing the conductor, though, which somewhat spoiled the effect (there was a lighting change as they sang their "Willaloo", and then it changed back to the prosaic world of the Chancellor every time they fell silent); these are the sorts of problems that normally would be solved during Tech Week, but when there's only one dress rehearsal before the performance, it's practically impossible to get everything like that to work. Rounding off the cast, Private Willis (Paul Thompson) didn't need a peerage to be impressive on the stage; the Fairy Queen (Zena Bradley) didn't even need to be a person to be impressive! Both had excellent voices. Zena we've seen in quite a few productions this festival, and she's quite competent to the roles, but one must wonder how much rehearsal time she was able to give to each show. Celia, Leila, and Fleta (Shorelle Hepkins, Holly Strawson, and Pauline Hepkin respectively) were not just three members of a uniform chorus who happened to deliver solo lines; they were individual characters, maintained consistently throughout the show. Fleta was forever trying to get a wand - or her Queen's spear, even - but was constantly denied one. Leila wanted to lead (and, in fact, conducted the finale, in the "This word is French" section), but it seems Celia was always the one who actually led. And finally, one who's never named or addressed... the Lord Chancellor's trainbearer. He was very much a part of the action (especially in the final encore to If You Go In), and at the very end, he got paired off with Fleta for his trip to fairyland, where presumably he will go on serving the Chancellor for the rest of their lives (which, if Leila is correct, might last a rather long time).

The most important characters in any G&S are of course the choruses. Without the chorus, what would the Peers' March be? Without a chorus of duchesses, marchionesses, etcetera, who would save Iolanthe's life? Without that huge altercation between peers and fairies, what would keep the first act finale from utter yawndom? The choruses today were a bit mixed, but fairly energetic, and definitely taking some interest in what was going on; and when that happens, we the audience are also interested, and the show works. Tonight, things may not have been perfect, but they were definitely enjoyable.

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