Iolanthe, Yeovil Amateur Operatic Society at Octagon Theatre

LordChancellorBKYEOVIL Amateur Operatic Society was hot off the mark when it first staged Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe in 1903, less than 20 years after the work’s London premiere. The Somer­set society was started a year earlier, and its first seven shows were by G and S.

This week YAOS’s sixth production of the batty story of half-man-half-fairy Strephon and his youthful mother is on stage at the Octagon. Gilbert’s satire on the state of the House of Lords is as funny today as it was back then, and Strephon’s magical election to the House, by courtesy of the Fairy Queen, as leader of both parties and supporter of conflicting views, had a strange reflection of New Labour and Faceless Tory.

Enough politicking. This traditional production, directed by Alan Spencer,  is as strong on dancing as singing, and includes some delightful performances. At the end of the overture, stylishly played by Matt Holmes’ ten-strong orchestra, the stage is lit to expose the fairies, all in Arcadian costume.

Chancellor_QueenBKEnter the Fairy Queen, in the more-sinister than usual form of the mesmerising Marie Brolly, aided by her chief fairies, outstanding among whom is Jennifer Holland-Brewer. Before long Her Majesty frees Iolanthe (Elouise Driver) from banishment, only to find herself drawn into the on-off romance of Iolanthe’s son Strephon (Paul Graham) and Phyllis, beautifully played by Naomi Riglar.

The problem is that fairies can’t marry mortals, and when they are confronted by the full panoply of the House of Peers, they start to question the rules.

Mark Rudd, a stalwart of the society, gives a scene-stealing performance as the Lord Chancellor, relishing every tarrydiddle and teddybear.

Duncan Wright stepped into the role of the loveable Private Willis at relatively short notice and what he lacks in basso profundo he more than makes up in personality.

The music is timeless and tuneful, and the story charmingly quirky, making Iolanthe the Savoy Opera sometimes described as Gilbert and Sullivan’s most perfect.

Iolanthe is  on at the Octagon until Saturday 10th October, and two weeks later YAOS holds its first auditions for the Spring show, Evita.


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