BETWEEN the wars, the D'Oyly Carte family were most selective when issuing licences for performances of the Savoy operas so as to avoid saturating the market. That restraining hand has now been removed and we ﬁnd that local theatregoers are faced with a third production of lolanthe within the space of a little over l2 months.
So it was up to Maurice Williams, producer for Witham Operatic Society, to make his show just that little more original so as to add spice to an all too well-known story. As far as the chorus is concerned he has succeeded admirably. When the trumpet brays, the noble lords limp on displaying all the disabilities of age and over-much good living, in amusing contrast to the customary stately procession of upstanding peers. I am sure W. S. Gilbert would approve.
The fairies too, who trip hither and thither, owe little allegiance to either Gossamer or Thistledown but are well-nourished and sing with a will. David Fletcher, neither half of whom is particularly fairy-like, nevertheless makes a handsome Strephon and his duets with Pat Harris as a most delectable shepherdess are, perhaps, the best vocal items of the evening.
Timothy Sheppard is a finely traditional Lord Chancellor and although Margaret Bloomfield lacks the depth and power of voice necessary for the monumental Queen of the Fairies, she presents an impressive appearance. Ewart Cornfield (Tolloller) and Gerry Banks (Mountararat) are neatly contrasted peers of the realm and Jo Wood makes an appealing Iolanthe.
Simon Charters and Tony Wood share the responsibility of representing Guardsman Willis on selected evenings and Kathleen Adams, looking as though she had just stepped out of Alice in Wonderland, gives an expert lead to the fairies as Leila. Patsy Doy (Celia) and Hilary Sparkhall (Fleta) glitter just ahead of the chorus while Jacky Wood will have her opportunity, during the week, of taking centre stage as leading lady.
The costumes are pleasing but the first scene was, to me, quite uniquely off-putting being, apparently a background to "The Stag at Bay. Musical director Wally-Assheton Taylor's experienced hand will, no doubt, smooth out the early roughness of the orchestra and with improved attack as the week goes on and another success will be recorded by next Saturday.
The reason for the immortality of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas lies not only in their tuneful melodies and witty lyrics and dialogue but also in their surprising appositeness to modern Times. “Iolanthe” is no exception and if one substitutes Labour for Liberal, its hilarious political theme is not far removed from today.
Witham Operatic Society's production of this fantasy with its Lords and Commons, mortals and fairies was well produced by Maurice Williams though possibly a little under-rehearsed. The chorus of fairies is a little static and the peers overdo their inﬁrmity which is rather distracting.
The first act really belongs to Strephon and Phyllis. They both have splendid voices and they can both act as well as sing, and the second act belongs to the Lord Chancellor who looks very like the present holder of that ofﬁce though a little thinner. The famous trio goes over marvellously well. Possibly Lord Mountararat has the best male voice and the fairy queen the best female, though it is not quite strong enough to ﬁll the role.
The orchestra conducted by Wally Assheton-Taylor and led by Genevieve Thomas are a tremendous help to the company. The lighting is excellent and this is not the easiest play to light and there are two most beautiful back cloths, but what a pity the two borders could not have been made more realistic.
This production, which runs until Saturday, should not be missed.
THAT slightly hackneyed masterpiece, Iolanthe, is given new lustre at Witham this week by director Maurice Williams in the treatment of his chorus. The “dignified and stately” noblemen have become crotchety old gentlemen, too addicted to over ripe pheasant and port wine while the fairies are plump, cuddly creatures who seem to have stepped from the pages of a Victorian child’s story-book.
Admirably Gilbertian and very funny, David Fletcher (Strephon) with Pat Harris (Phyllis) are Dresden china figures straight from Arcady and they sing together delightfully. Timothy Sheppard makes a comical and agile Lord Chancellor and Margaret Bloomfield is a statuesque Queen of the Fairies.
On the first night, the show lacked the pace and punch that usually distinguishes the Witham Operatic Society's work and the orchestra has still to acquire the delicate touch necessary for Sullivan’s exquisite music.
ON Saturday, Witham Operatic Society rang down the curtain on another successful operatic week. It was just a little bit different this year for, on two occasions, experienced principals stood aside and permitted the stars of tomorrow to take the stage.
The experiment was popular and both players performed with composure and a fair degree of skill. Sixteen-year-old Jacky Wood, daughter of Dr Tony Wood (Sentry) and Mrs Jo Wood (Iolanthe), made a pretty and graceful Phyllis and sang this top soprano part with confident ease while Simon Charters used his pleasant baritone voice to good effect as Private Willis.
Talented youngsters are certainly knocking on the door at Witham - a very good augury for the future.