Sunday, 25 October 2009

Savoy Opera Company's Iolanthe

I'm delighted that it was tonight that we'd planned to come, as we got to see Bec playing Leila, which she's only doing for two of the performances. (Hey, may as well be honest - I come to these shows for the people in them, so the more people I know in the show, the better!) And we weren't disappointed; it was a fun show, as Iolanthe needs to be.

The overture was played well (I love the triangle, Sullivan put it to good use). Pity that several audience members were still finding their places, though. From the waving of the curtain, it seems some of the cast were, too, although that's something that always seems to happen. The curtain went up on a group of sleeping fairies, who were progressively roused by wand-jabs until all were awake in time to sing their opening number. The set was extensive, especially right at the beginning; there was so much that there was no room for choreography, although that didn't matter much, as there wasn't much choreography to need room for. Later some of that was flown out (and a couple of large mushrooms removed by an unfortunately-visible stagehand), but for the opening, it was fairly crowded. Not too crowded, though, for a lovely bit part for the tiny fairy who brought the Queen a cuppa and newspaper - delightful! The set was mostly canvas, and I think there was not a part of it that didn't get bumped at some point, which was a pity. But it looked good, and Iolanthe was able to make her entrance from behind it, rather than the boring option of just walking on from the wings.

Lighting was subtle, never drawing attention to itself. There were a few places where things seemed a little dark, but mostly things worked. One or two followspots would have improved things significantly, as there were several points where people weren't in their specials, but one can't have everything, and for the most part, everyone could be seen.

Musical direction was respectful, and sounded good. There were a number of places where the singers and orchestra got out of sync, but they always got back together eventually. One interesting change was made: "If we're weak enough to tarry" was put in the first act, and "None shall part us" into the second. This placed the songs where they were originally written to be, but they were shifted very early on and are more usually performed the other way around. I'm not sure whether they work better this way around or the other, but it certainly worked just fine tonight.

Problems happen in every show, and I'm very impressed with the way one was handled tonight - although the people in charge of properties (Geoff Fisher and Annette Cott, according to the programme) will have a bit of a repair job. One of the fairy wands broke, but a swift foot-jab and the broken end scuttled under a flat and into the wings. Good job!

Well, if it's the people I see the show for, I should talk about them - some. The choruses were large, and for the most part singing well, although vocal balance was a bit lacking (what operatic society *isn't* desperate for good tenors??). Without too much actual choreography to do, all still maintained a level of interest in what was going on, and kept focussed on the action. One of the hardest things to do is to demonstrate lethargy, but in the opening number, that's precisely what the fairies did... and then snapped out of it on "No, we haven't any notion". The three fairies Celia, Leila, and Fleta (played by two different people each across the season - tonight, Rhiannon Stevens, Bec Muratore, and Shona Armstrong respectively) fitted in and led the chorus. You will not think me biased, I am sure, for singling out Leila - of course I wasn't looking at her especially, just because I know her! She definitely was good, though; and there is something incredibly comic about such a short fairy staring down those immensely tall earls! Fleta has only a few lines, but plenty of character; and Celia definitely led the entire company in the second act. These fairies have enough magical power behind them to push the entire House of Lords around; and the men can't leave until the fairies resign themselves to the fact that they're going (upon which they can happily leave, right through the mass of fairies). The two Earls Mountararat (Matthew Cookson) and Tolloller (Glenn Murray) handled their respective parts with the nobility that they demand; these stately Lords of England, so simple-minded yet so grand, long may they stand and flourish - types of our English land! The second act, with them and the Lord Chancellor, was full of pork pie - funny pork pie, but still just pork pie. They feed off each other well, and worked effectively with the incredibly comic Andy Payne as Lord Chancellor. Spry (as was his train bearer, Laura Bourke) and hilarious, Andy also quietened down for his scene with his unrecognized wife, that beautiful moment when she pleads with him to no avail. And plead she did... Iolanthe (Rebecca Domorev) brought out the emotional range from inconsolable grief to ebullient joy, comforting Strephon in his loss, and accepting fate when her queen is about to revoke her pardon. Once the Fairy Queen (Jenny Wakefield) made her decision, that decision was made - she may be all friendly and happy when she welcomes Iolanthe back and gives her a tiara and wand, but there is no appeal from her decisions, which she delivers with such utter deliberation. The same deliberation is in evidence when she selects a husband, too; there's no indecision, no contemplation - she makes the alteration to the law, and then in perfect calmness summons her a man to her side: Private Willis (Nicolas Sharman). He steps out of his sentry-kennel (err, I mean, sentry-box) and obeys her call, for he's a British soldier, and will happily ill-convenience himself to save the female in this dress. He's accustomed to having the ladies' attention - he had Phyllis's, while the two earls were discussing her fate (and by the way, that was one of the best renditions I've seen of that scene), and he later says all the generals admire him. But he takes the Fairy Queen, who apparently isn't too concerned about what her laws are, as long as they're followed. And Strephon (Stephen White), shepherd-turned-parliamentarian, isn't much concerned about laws either, as long as he can marry Phyllis; we don't see many of his acts of P-A-arliament implemented - which is a good thing, seeing that the Fairy Queen was suggesting such things as politicians getting no superannuation, in a fun little modification of her description of the peers' "doom appalling". All Strephon wants is his flagolet, his sheep, and his girlfriend, and when one of them is removed from him, he's pretty brokenhearted. That emotion may have been a little overacted, but he certainly did some fairly convincing hugs and kisses when he was with Phyllis (Rachel Sztanski). Lord Chancellors aside, they really would have been made happy forever by getting married (and they delivered that dialogue excellently - Phyllis knows exactly what Strephon means, but is so nervous about the whole matter...). Phyllis's marble count was clearly dropping during the finale (and the poor girl had nobody to turn to, so she just had to stand there sobbing on her own), although by the second act she'd found back enough to be more stern with Strephon than distressed. (Although she seems to have lost her eyesight somewhere along the way. How long has she been harassed by - err, I mean, engaged to - these two earls, and yet she doesn't recognize them when they come to kiss her hand?) By the end of the show, she'd found them all back again, I think, and happily went off to fairyland along with everyone else (leaving the House of Commons to rule the country).

There were a couple of people in the audience who laughed at just about everything, and the applause was maintained throughout, so I think everyone else shared my opinion - that the show was a lot of fun. Well done!

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