Review: Iolanthe at Dolphin Theatre

Review by Hannah Fredriksson We live in a world where a single positive test result can throw a spanner into the works of any organised activity. Living with a pandemic has caused us to become resilient and reactive, to adapt swiftly to ever-changing conditions, covid-related or otherwise. Tonight’s performance of Iolanthe by the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Western Australia is living proof that the show must go on! Iolanthe is the tale of a fairy banished from the fairy world for marrying a mortal. She is pardoned for her crime and reunited with the fairies, introducing them to her son Strephon. Half-fairy, half-mortal, Strephon is an arcadian shepherd who intends to marry his love Phyllis, who is a Ward of Chancery and not yet of legal marrying age. They require permission from the Lord Chancellor to marry, however he and his peers all wish to marry Phyllis themselves. The Lord Chancellor decides to betroth Phyllis to himself, however the only way to convince him otherwise is for Iolanthe to confess that she is actually his wife, whom he had long thought dead. By admitting this, Iolanthe breaks the fairy law, however upon closer inspection, the Lord Chancellor realises the predicament can be fixed with one simple amendment to the law; ‘death for any fairy who don’t marry a mortal.’ This evening director Michael Brett stepped in to fill the polished shoes of the Lord Chancellor, with actor David Cosgrove unable to perform. The last minute substitution meant that Michael was performing on book, which is understandable given the circumstances. Truthfully it didn’t seem entirely out of character for the Lord Chancellor to be carrying a stack of papers, given the litigious nature of the role. Despite this Michael’s characterisation was on point, with humorous facial expressions and grandiose gestures. Catherine Archer played the titular role of Iolanthe with a wonderful maternal warmth for this character that was such a mentor for the other fairies. Belinda Butler shone with a commanding presence as the Fairy Queen. Magda Lisek was immaculate as Phyllis, balancing effortless charm with well-timed comic exasperation. Liam Auhl was well cast as Strephon, with a sprightly energy appropriate for a half-fairy. There were some amusing moments of interaction between the Lord Chancellor, the Peers and the orchestra, particularly during the song Loudly Let The Trumpet Bray. This production also included the deleted song ‘Fold Your Flapping Wings’ performed by Strephon, a wonderful choice from director Michael Brett. Act I and Act II were marked by distinctly different set designs by Barry Boyd. While the first act was bright, warm and airy, an apt visual for the fairy realm, the second act was set inside the chambers of parliament, which was a realistic looking interior with black walls and bookshelves laden with very important looking books. The stark contrast showed the vast differences between the fanciful fairy world and the orderly human world. The costume department produced some stunning garments for this production. The fairies were donned in flowy teal dresses with flower crowns, the overall effect was very modern and romantic. Phyllis’ dresses were gorgeous creations, utilising pink and blue gingham in some classic silhouettes. The Peers of the Realm wore dramatic cloaks and ostentatious crowns in bright purple, with blue and red versions for Lord Tolloller and Lord Mountararat respectively. The overall effect of the purple peers mingling with the teal fairies was very pleasing to the eye. The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Western Australia’s 9th production of Iolanthe is a joyously funny and visually appealing interpretation of the 140-year-old opera. Well done to the cast, crew and orchestra, particularly director Michael Brett for adapting quickly to unforeseen circumstances and putting on a wonderful performance.


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