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Iolanthe (Fay Samways reviews)


WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan

Gardiner Memorial Hall, Burwell, Cambs

Directed by Lucas Elkin

 Star rating 4

Photography by Jet Photographic Cambridge

Cambridgeshire Light Opera Group (CLOG) is a new company which has risen from the ashes of Swaffham Bulbeck Summer Theatre which closed last year. And it’s a good example of how you can present this marvellous material in a village hall, with almost no resources, a mixed ability community cast and still carry it off –  providing you use your imagination and think laterally.

There is, for example, no set to speak of. Instead we get projected scenes on the back screen – Iolanthe’s pond, the House of Lords and so on. In fact, if you do it this way, you can change setting as often as you like and this production does. The rest of the set consists mostly of four very versatile black boxes which stand for seats, tables and the famous sentry box. It’s simple, clean and ingenious.

And Cleo Loi, MD has arranged the music for just four players. She plays keys, percussion and violin alongside a second keyboard player, a cello and a reed-instrument player. I loved the way, once it settles after the overture, she weaves the melodies and counter melodies together. The cello continuo works particularly well.

If you have no budget, then modern dress makes sense because it’s easy to improvise. Of course Peers would wear dark suits and the coloured sashes to indicate party allegiance are neat. And as for the fairies, well, these “peris” simply wear weird floaty mismatching outfits, unified by their all being in stripey tights.

There are some accomplished performers in this show too. The Lord Chancellor is usually an elderly, querulous little man. Not this time. Peter Coleman stands taller and has more gravitas than anyone else on stage which completely changes the character and that’s refreshing. Coleman sings exceptionally well and every single word is clear – as it needs to be, especially in the Nightmare Song. He has also been directed to time Gilbert’s sparkling dialogue so that he is really very funny, as events gradually conspire against his authority. His is definitely a Lord Chancellor to remember.

Caroline Dyson, a well known figure on the Cambridgeshire community musical theatre circuit, is rich and warm as the Fairy Queen. She has, for these times, an unusual voice trained into the gorgeous depths of the traditional contralto. If, like me, you’re mildly synaesthetic, it’s aubergine. And her flirting with Private Willis (Paul Murray John in battle fatigues and brewing tea – nice touch) is a delight.

Sally Goldsmith is a fine Iolanthe too – emerging from her watery exile from behind the umbrellas weilded by her fairy sisters. She sings in the mezzo range with fluent accuracy  and is convincing as an anxious mother. Of course she doesn’t look seventeen but – hey – this is community work and it doesn’t matter a jot.

Among other soloists, all of whom acquit themselves creditably, Caille Peri is wide eyed and assertive as Phyllis and Ariel Cahn sings Strephon’s part with pleasing musicality.

Chorus work is nicely managed in a small space and the production makes imaginative use of the side aisles – bring the Peers in initially from the back, for example, while they mutter “upper class twerp” stuff to each other.

When one reviews any sort of show it has be assessed as a show of its type. And this Iolanthe is an excellent show of its type: village hall opera lovingly done.

I am so glad that CLOG has almost sold out every one on its five performances and is now looking forward to its next production. I am too.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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