This new take on a G&S classic, devised by Thomas Duchan our Director and Musical Director, is set in the dated and dreary Arcadia Club, home to the peers and their boss, the head honcho, the big cheese - the Lord Chancellor.
Iolanthe, a fairy, has been banished from her girlfriends because she married a mortal. The Fairy Queen is persuaded to pardon Iolanthe and so the fairies learn of her son Strephon, who tells his newfound aunts of his sorry situation. Strephon, a bartender at the Arcadia club, fancies the apron off waitress Phyllis - but then again who doesn’t!? The peers certainly do! The only problem? His boss, the Lord Chancellor who has a mind to take Phyllis for himself. He dismisses Strephon’s wish to marry Phyllis and also his attempts of moving the Arcadia club into the 21st century with cocktails and chrome! But Strephon is Phyllis’ guy, that is until Phyllis sees Strephon with Iolanthe - whose makeup is ‘on fleek’*. Phyllis gets jealous and decides to teach her man a lesson. The ensuing confusion leads to great hilarity and drama between the fairies and the peers, all of whom fight for power in this story of love, loss and … well, cocktails!
WITHAM AMATEUR OPERATIC SOCIETY
Iolanthe, by Gilbert and Sullivan
Director and Musical Director Thomas Duchan
Choreographer and Assistant Director Heather Howard
Performed at Witham Public Hall on Friday 26th April 2019
I was met by Debbie Rolph, Front of House Manager and afterwards I had the opportunity to talk with Thomas Duchan, the Director and Musical Director.
This production of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta was an updated and very modern script which really brought the disparate characters to life. Director Thomas Duchan has introduced some minor changes to the script and lyrics which have rooted the story firmly in the modern day with a local element eg Brentwood.
The production opened in the Fairy House introducing the Fairy Chorus and Soloists and the Queen of the Fairies,(Rhianna Howard) The fairies were certainly not fairies in the accepted traditional sense and were all very vocal and intent on being heard. Rhianna played a rather forthright and assertive character, trying hard to exert some control over the Fairies. Aimee Hart, in the title role of Iolanthe, had been banished from the Fairies as she had married a mere mortal and had a son, Strephon played by Michael Watling.
Stewart Adkins was quite majestic in the role of Lord Chancellor with a strong vocal performance in “The Law is the True Embodiment” and “When I went to the Bar “. Amy Buchanan, as Phyllis, played a strong character quite capable of fielding off the amorous advances of the group of Peers and is in love with Strephon. Amy and Michael performed two delightful duets, “None Shall Part Us from Each Other” and “If We're Weak Enough to Tarry” and their voices complemented each other with excellent expression.
And what a great group of Peers with some really excellent voices throughout the production - Gary Rolph, Simon Rothman, Tim Sheppard and Matt Waldie, ably assisted by Richard Herring, as Lord Mountararat and Alex Moore, as Lord Tolloller. Very strong vocal performances! Ron Howe, as Bouncer Willis at the Arcadia Club did well with the opening number of Act 2 ie “When All Night Long a Chap Remains” and was well cast in this role.
Assistant Director and Choreographer, Heather Howard ensured that good use was made of the stage. There were some interesting dance routines although I suspect that the Peers were not really keen dancers! Nevertheless, they did well.
I must mention the large band of fourteen musicians ably conducted by Thomas Duchan. There were many different instruments all played with great skill and enthusiasm. The volume was perfect with no actor overshadowed, well done especially considering the limited rehearsal time they had together before the first live show. The set was fairly basic but effective, consisting mainly of black backdrops, shimmery backdrop for the Fairy House and signage and a bar for the Arcadia Club .A number of props were moved on and off stage seamlessly, adding much to the backdrops .Production Manager (Paul Goddard) and Stage Manager (Ben Sawyer) were clearly in control here and some excellent lighting and sound added to the overall effect. Costumes, from the group's wardrobe, were all very relevant to the characters and the period, as was the make-up.
This was a well-directed and innovative production, which moved along at a good pace and with great enthusiasm. I enjoyed the evening immensely and congratulate everyone involved in this first class production, both on and off stage
Hazel Hole MBE
There seems to have been a general feeling recently, not without justification, that Gilbert and Sullivan, in its original form, would not appeal to today’s audiences. Thus we have had WOW’s Hot Mikado in 2010 and in 2016 Witham Amateur Operatic Society’s ‘Australian version’ of Pirates of Penzance. Now we have WAOS’s Iolanthe in modern dress with references to texting, facetime, The Only Way Is Essex and Brexit, imaginatively directed by Thomas Duchan.
It won’t have pleased the purists but it won favour with the likes of Stewart Adkins and Tim Sheppard, who have graced many G&S productions in the past. Adkins was in his fourth version of Iolanthe while Sheppard, now in his 63rd year with the society, appeared in WAOS’s 1973 production.
There was of course much that they would recognise. The men’s chorus still goes around singing ‘tantantara’ while the Lord Chancellor (Adkins) still has to get his tongue round the machine-gun delivery of Love Unrequited, a task he rises too with aplomb.
There is also room for the beautiful singing voices of Amy Buchanan (Phyllis) and Aimee Hart (Iolanthe) and it was good to see Rhianna Howard back on stage in a meaty part, giving her all as Queen of the Fairies (Essex version). Michael Watling is convincing as the love-torn Strephon with solid support from WAOS veterans Richard Herring and Ron Howe.
Photos by Matilda Bourne