Iolanthe | Gilbert and Sullivan Society of SALeft – Alex Gard and Patrick Witcombe. Cover – Alex Gard. Photos – Tim Allan

Gilbert and Sullivan Society begin their 2012 season with a fresh take on the enchanting tale of Iolanthe. While it is hard to summarise such a complex plot, the comic opera follows the trials and tribulations of Iolanthe, a fairy who falls in love with a mortal. Because it is unlawful to do so, Iolanthe is banished from the fairy kingdom. Some 20 years later, her son Strephon experiences similar obstacles as he asks Phyllis, a mortal ward of the Lord Chancellor, for her hand in marriage.

A credit to the skilful David Lampard (director, set and costume designer, and choreographer), the minimal set is effective and surprising. It utilises a perhaps unconventional performance area, and is versatile and interesting. The costumes and make-up design (Vanessa Lee Shirley, make-up design) were equally as stunning, particularly the vibrant and ethereal fairy outfits.

The intimacy of the venue and the proximity between the stage and the seating heightened the connection between performer and audience member. In spite of the minimal reliance on amplification, the cast's vocal projection was generally exceptional; as were their collective acting abilities.

While the entire cast showed great aptitude, Vanessa Lee Shirley gave a standout performance as the Queen of Fairies. The role beautifully showcased her convincing and powerful stage presence, big voice and comedic ability. Similarly, Patrick Witcombe shone as Strephon, wooing the audience with his dulcet tones. The convoluted plot was interspersed with comic relief, capably provided by Rod Shultz in his role as the hilariously camp Black Rod.

The small orchestra (5 piece string with piano and keyboard) was competently directed by newcomer, Ian Andrews. The awkward location of the orchestra did not hinder the togetherness of the production, and despite a few intonation issues and noticeable uncertainty during several recitative sections, Andrews delivered the most from his orchestra.

As would be expected of a Gilbert and Sullivan piece, Iolanthe provided commentary on recent social and political happenings, including the recent tumult of Australian federal politics. While humorous, the references were made so fleetingly that they hardly seemed worthy or relevant to the plot. The typical Gilbertian humour was present, but the laughs did not divert attention from the exceedingly longwinded and tedious plot.

Whether it is from the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire or a completely different work, The Gilbert and Sullivan Society repeatedly stage exceptional pieces of theatre. While the plot is arguably a little tedious, Iolanthe is definitely no exception.

Gilbert and Sullivan Society of SA
by W.S. Gilbert and A. Sullivan

Venue: The Opera Studio, 216 Marion Road, Netley
Dates: March 16 - March 25, 2012
Tickets: $22.00 - $30.00

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