Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Cambridge University G&S Society: Iolanthe

Tonight's house was pretty much sold out, with the edges of the gallery and even the restricted-viewing seats being empersonned. (This is probably because Savoynet was well represented, as were the casts for our Australian shows. What, you don't think we made that much difference? Aww. Well, I can fantasize, can't I?) This unfortunately doesn't correspond to the show's quality, with several excellent shows having failed to fill; I cannot in honesty say that today's show was superior to them.

That's not to say that the show was terrible, though. The female chorus all plausibly looked as young as Phyllis and Iolanthe (and so did the Fairy Queen), and performers' voices across the board were sweet and lovely. However, several lacked the volume and diction to be heard in the gallery, which detracted from otherwise-notable songs (including "Fold Your Flapping Wings", a worthwhile inclusion when your Strephon can do it justice), and in some cases, words were lost upstage when someone faced away from the audience while singing or speaking. But this was clearly a fun show, with leads and chorus all enjoying the experience.

The set was simple and wide-open, leaving ample room for choreography. This room was often left unused in favour of having the singers all the way downstage, a fair trade if ever I saw one. When the entire stage was put to use (such as in the first act finale, with the fairies driving the peers around the stage in perfect formation), the effect was... effective. Lighting was stable, in stark contrast to the melodramatic appearance of the weekend's Ruddigore; changes were done gently and subtlely.

A few changes to the script bear noting. Strephon, not being on the large side, was described as "inclined to be blonde" - this apparently refers not to his hair but what's under it, as demonstrated by the length of time it took him to figure out that his mother's sisters were his... err..... aunts? As mentioned above, "Fold Your Flapping Wings" was restored; this along with several one-word changes cemented Iolanthe as a political satire - unsurprising for a university's production. Up in the peanut gallery, we were wondering if the Fairy Queen's second verse would be changed, but anoraks aside, it wasn't. (If you don't know why I'm referring to anoraks, you don't want to know. Long story off Savoynet - only other anoraks would know, probably! Apologies to everyone else - normal people, in other words.)

The cast, as we have been told, ranges from university alumni all the way down to first-years, several of whom have been demonstrating their excellent musical skills tonight on the cabaret stage. I can't single out people for commendation fairly without knowing who had how much experience, but I am told that there were some for whom this was their first stage show; to them, whoever you are, may I offer my congratulations and encouragement for the future! But in no particular order... Strephon (Aled Walker - this is not a typo for Alex) carried a strong character, a bit blonde at times (as mentioned above), but good fun. Knew to wait for the laugh after "Which half?" so that his response was not lost in it. His beloved Phyllis (Charlotte Greenhow) did enjoy looking in that mirror (you can't make me believe it was the first sight she'd had of one), and there's little wonder that the peers are all after her. Of them, the Lords Tollollerat (James Hall and Alan Hay) were an inseparable pair, able to ramble on at extreme length about which of them should slay the other (at which Phyllis was unutterably bored and lay down on the grass upstage), in spite of being on opposite political sides. Their love for Phyllis is a bond that binds them to one another... oh wait, wrong show. The Lord Chancellor (Jonathan Padley) juggled his two capacities carefully, remaining judicial while very much in love with his own ward; his wig was spectacular, until we learned that it wasn't a wig at all! (He greyed his hair for the performance, and commented on it when describing the damage to his constitution: "Three months ago, I was a brunette".) A stable Private Willis (Neill Campbell) quietly stood the stage for the entire second act, and at a word of command, sprouted wings for the finale in quite a convincing manner - him first, then the rest of the company. And the one who wields the power to command wings to appear? A youthful but powerful leader, the Fairy Queen (Anna Harvey); she didn't really look like a devastating leader, but when the need is there, she will be all you need and more. The Chancellor's misinterpretation of her as a classroom teacher isn't hard to understand, nor is his consternation at discovering that she's so much more. We must only hope that he is forgiven once it's known that she's also his mother-in-law, once he's reunited with Iolanthe (Danielle Phillips) - such a sweet voice, he must surely have recognized it to some extent. Iolanthe carried her beautiful aria fairly well, though I could have hoped for a little more passion in it; she's pleading for her son's lifelong happiness, at the risk of painful execution. And she knows full well that she is bringing death upon herself; it's only the timely intervention of Leila (Helena Culliney) and the rest of the company that saves her. With her opposite number Celia (Francesca Costigan), they led the company of fairies through their terrorizing acts, keeping the entire House of Lords on its toes or on its knees.

This is the company's fiftieth year, in a context with (I presume) heavy turnover of cast members. Maintaining a performing company under those circumstances cannot be easy, and Cambridge Uni G&S are to be commended. May I echo the sentiments shared by Gillian and Neil in their respective concluding remarks, that this company should go from strength to strength with, we hope, many good performing years ahead of them.

1 comment:

VisitingMusic said...

Thanks for these very constructive thoughts which I will be circulating to the cast! I certainly did enjoy looking in that mirror... mainly because it had soap all over it so it wouldn't flash at the audience and I couldn't actually see my reflection!

Phyllis (aka Lottie Greenhow) xx