IOLANTHE is the aristocrat of Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas.
Only one member of the lower orders is on view and, in Witham Operatic Society's current production, Edward Maltby plays the philosophic Private Willis with earthy candour. All the others are either peers of the realm or inhabitants of fairyland.
It has long been a tradition that the Queen of the Fairies should be a very large lady with a deep voice sounding rather like a well-tuned fog-horn. Witham, surprisingly, chose popular Patsy Doy for the part. She lacked the avoirdupois and the booming tones but careful voice production enabled her to master the contralto score and her pose and grace were a delight to the eye.
But the sadistic W. S. Gilbert was cheated a little here and some of his comic lines fell ﬂat.
Derek Collins’ production was spot on as usual. Each of his Peers were individual characters and although I doubted whether any of his fairies could ﬂy they ﬂuttered delightfully - I particularly liked the local acting lance corporals Celia, Leila and Fleta vivaciously played by Avril Milne, Catherine Moore and Lydia Clough.
The two Dresden china ﬁgures from the antique shop were nicely taken by Helene Jones (Phyllis) and Howard Brooks (Strephon).
The two belted Earls from the Carlton Club were safe in the hands of Nicholas Clough (Mountararat) and Simon Mitchell (Tolloller) while Janet Collins the hard-done-by Iolanthe was in quite splendid voice.
Derek Collins is like the professor who knew more and more about less and less. His economy of movement and gesture is remarkable – as the Lord Chancellor he will reduce his audiences to tears each night of the week.
The first night, however, was somewhat ragged both musically and vocally but musical director Ken Ferris, that stalwart of the society, will pull everything together long before the ﬁnal performance, which as ever, will end in a blaze of glory.