The last OUGSS production of Iolanthe, in Magdalen Auditorium in November 2010, was one of their most accomplished and memorable. Who could forget the arty fairies, the Tory and Whig leaders portrayed dancing hand-in-hand as David and Nick, and an utterly classic performance by Fergus Butler-Gallie as the Lord Chancellor? Before last night, I wondered how that could possibly be improved upon.
As soon as the first fairy appeared, however, we knew we were in for a similar treat. She - and each subsequent chorus member - provided an individual quirky character for the audience to enjoy, with the constant variety of “business” in the background, which brings a really good Gilbert & Sullivan production to life. From the first fairies flitting round the furniture and peeping round the pillars, to the last bow of the Lords, there was really nothing to find fault with, and plenty to admire. It was a feast for both the eyes and the ears: beautiful Oxford maidens cavorting in colourful corsetry and popping up in unexpected places, to the accompaniment of Sullivan’s score, performed as usual with amazingly minimal rehearsal, with a strong woodwind section including some particularly fine clarinets.
The principals were all perfectly cast, in great voice, and with a wonderful variety both of character and tonal quality. It seems unfair to single anyone out for praise when they all pulled together so strongly, but it would be impossible not to mention Will Tomsett, who gave a completely different interpretation to the role of Lord Chancellor. The image of Tomsett leaping about like a lovable rogue, clad in stripy pyjamas and clutching his teddy while delivering the demanding nightmare patter song, will stay with us forever! Other notable and welcome new additions to the OUGSS pool of talent include: Max Lawrie, whose effortless rendition of Lord Tolloller was a delight to the ears; Lauren Au, with her calm poise and riveting stage presence as Iolanthe; Emilia Carslaw, a most entertaining Fairy Queen; and Chloe Fairbanks, a powerful Phyllis. We hope to see more from them all in future productions.
This is the first time OUGSS has performed in the church of St John the Evangelist on the Iffley Road. It provides the perfect setting for Iolanthe, the grandeur of its high ceilings and woodwork an ideal backdrop for the House of Lords, the acoustics perfect. So many of the lines in Iolanthe are such timeless political parody, they are as pertinent today as they were a couple of centuries ago – don’t miss this chance to hear them in this lovely venue.
Alas! There is only one more performance of this excellent production. I do wish some generous body would give the OUGSS a grant or donation to fund professional video recording of their shows, as some of them are so good they deserve to be preserved for posterity and a wider audience. Tonight’s Iolanthe was definitely such a performance.