Two years ago, Trent opened the Festival competition. This year, they conclude it. Under the skilled (though perhaps overworked) direction of Andrew Nicklin, a chorus of hunter-fisher types elevated themselves to the magnificent rank of Lord High Everything Else. Or, looking at it another way, a House of Peers disrobed en masse. In any case, the chorus of peers was completely devoid of those magnificent robes that we're trained to expect in an Iolanthe; for better or for worse, they were garbed instead for hunting and fishing (on Phyllis's grounds, presumably).
That's plenty of ado there, let's get to the characters. Some of them seemed stoic to the point of being emotionless, but not Iolanthe (Sharon Cutworth); though one can hardly sing her second act aria without getting some sense of what's going on. Her son Strephon (Andrew Dennis) was very much at home in the first-act woodland setting, and hardly less so in the second-act Westminster; though one must wonder at the Peers of the Realm poking around amongst gigantic Amanita Muscaria in a glade covered with fairy footprints (if they make any, that is; which is far from certain). The love scene between him and Phyllis (Melanie Mastrototaro) would perhaps have had more enthusiasm if she hadn't been bound up in equestrian costume, which rather reduced the whole "have you ever looked in the glass" scene's believability a little - though we did get the impression that she HAD, after all, looked in the glass, and that a good many times. Her two noblemen, the Lords Thorge Tollollerat (Philip Abbott and Ian Thomson), had also looked at themselves a good number of times, to judge from their opinions of themselves. Of course, Phyllis is above all, and boyish friendship above Phyllis, but still, ego is critical to them. I wonder whether fairies control the peers through their egos... would certainly be the easiest part of them to target. Most had no trouble maintaining a grip on their "other halves", but Fleta (Alice Hands) couldn't hold her beer, I mean her peer. She was clearly still "fairy-in-training", watching her feet in the dance sequences, late off the mark in pretty much everything. Funny, undoubtedly, but it did pull focus at times. I almost didn't look at the Fairy Queen (Susan Holt) and Private Willis (John Carter) - and perhaps didn't mind, since Fleta's antics were definitely funny. There's one more character that I have a good few notes about, and that's Elsie - err I mean Lorina Charlotte - no, Lord Chancellor, that's the one (Stephen Godward). For his nightmare song, instead of watching him experience it, we saw him sitting up, drinking a hot beverage (out of a white mug with some sort of black design - I wasn't close enough to see what the design was, was it something funny/appropriate?), mulling over his memories. He wanted to walk out on Iolanthe during her beautiful aria, but she held him back with her fairy magicks to hear her fairy eloquence. And when finally he did fully understand, they had an almost-scene with a couple of flowers (which I didn't understand - maybe again because of my position in the gallery?) in which something was done which in some way cemented their relationship; would have been nice to what it was.
I have it on good authority that the show felt somewhat under-rehearsed from the inside. Maybe some will strongly criticize it for that, but we are spoiled for choice at this Festival; it was still far better than some other Iolanthes I've seen.