Saturday, 2 April 2011
I don't usually double up on an Arts Desk rave, but here's a show in which I wish I had shares: Sasha Regan's all-male Iolanthe, newly transferred from the tiny Union Theatre to the evocative space of the wonderful Wilton's Music Hall. And on it will no doubt go to the West End and Broadway, and if it doesn't, it should. Any excuse to put up a few more photos by Kay Young: of the fairies above, who of course have their fair share of camp, but do so much more besides, and of Alex Weatherhill who brings counter-tenorial beauty to the Fairy Queen's most melting number.
It's worth remembering, since Gilbert especially is taken to task for cruelty to old bags like Katisha and Lady Jane, that these ladies also get the most soulful numbers in the shows. The Queen's liquid melody has witty lyrics to match: 'amorous dove, type of Ovidius Naso' is invoked in verse 1, and verse 2 eulogises the then chief of the London Brigade:
Oh, Captain Shaw!
Type of true love kept under!
Could thy Brigade
With cold cascade
Quench my great love, I wonder!
There are so many pleasures in lyrics and dialogue, some of which I confess I was anticipating more keenly then they were occasionally delivered. We all love lofty Lord Tolloller's plea to not-so-simple shepherdess Phyllis to 'spurn not the nobly born':
Hearts just as pure and fair
May beat in Belgrave Square
As in the lowly air
Of Seven Dials!
Here's Alan Richardson's charming Phyllis with Luke Fredericks's Lord Mountararat and Matthew James Willis's Lord Tolloller.
There's also such musical distinction in the music of Iolanthe's resurrection, and her Act 2 crisis - all the more so when you listen to Sullivan's limpid orchestration, as I have done again this morning on the Sargent recording (such a shame that Telarc pulled the plugs on Mackerras's series before he could get round to Iolanthe, which he specially adored). Yet Christopher Mundy's lone piano-playing was masterly.
As I've already intimated in the review, what I loved best of all about this magical evening is that G&S come out of it triumphantly vindicated as the best of tune- and word-smiths. Ideas flash up so thick and fast in the Act One finale, and - rare in most of today's musicals - the ingenuity continues all the way through Act Two. Plus here it all was getting new life through a young, pretty and buffed crew, a class-mix Gilbert would have relished of show kids and kosher opera singers, dancing boys from Essex and others exuding public-school confidence like the beauteous Strephon of Louis Maskell.
Now I'm waiting for our overseas friends to come and stay so we can have the excuse of taking a Monday tour around Wilton's Music Hall, which just gets better; I remember the peculiar atmosphere of the peeling auditorium from Fiona Shaw's reading of The Waste Land, but I don't recall the foyer rooms being so welcoming.
Do go and see Iolanthe there - book now before it's too late; I don't doubt the show will find an even bigger home, but none could be more susceptible to true fairy magic than this one.