SASHA Regan’s version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe is quintessentially English fun, expanding the original wit and energy into the 21st century.
First seen in London in 2010, it starts as a group of excited young men find themselves in an old theatre, clamber onto the darkened stage, and get lost in the history of the place. The bookish one finds a story of the fairy Iolanthe, condemned to a living hell in a stream upside down among the frogs.
And hey presto it comes to life before our eyes, with the aid of torches, bunting and good woollen dressing gowns.
Regan began her internationally famed all-male G and S productions in the Union Theatre, a former paper warehouse in Southwark. Her inspiration came from the all-girls shows she used to perform at school. She wanted to inject new life into the Savoy operas, which had become fusty and staid in their traditional performances. Instantly she, the audiences and the critics recognised that she had hit on a sensational revival recipe.
Her Iolanthe has a wonderfully steam punk approach to the story of the fairies and the members of the House of Lords, and much of Gilbert’s satirical take is as relevant today as when he wrote his hilarious libretto in 1882.
It has the freshness of a group of amateurs happening on brilliant music and songs and throwing themselves into it, but there is nothing happenstance about the final performance, from a cast of singing, dancing actors whose special skill is to create loveable characters who can turn on the audience laughter and tears.
Perhaps the star of this tour is the sensational Richard Russell Edwards as the Fairy Queen, more May than Thatcher with a wicked sense of humour and a weakness for well-muscled basses. (Hardly surprising, when one considers the charms – and splendid voice – of Duncan Sandilands as the very fit Private Willis!)
Alistair Hill is a youthful Lord Chancellor, whose convoluted legal arguments never fail to delight. Richard Carson is an unusually virile Strephon and Joe Henry’s extraordinary voice and winsome moue make him a charming Phyllis.
The shoestring nature of Sasha Regan’s productions dispense with the full orchestral sound, but who needs it when they have the brilliant Richard Baker at the piano.
It’s huge fun from start to finish, just the tonic for a summer of Brexit votes and inevitably inflated and dashed footballing hopes.