If you talk of Gilbert & Sullivan, visions of jolly am-dram productions are bound to spring to mind. Take this cheap and cheerful imagery, add the superb, professional skills of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, and you've got the campest version of Iolanthe you'll ever have the good fortune to see.
Iolanthe is the tale of the most popular fairy in fairyland, banished forever for marrying a mortal. We join the action as the remaining fairies are appealing for her return 25 years later.
Once reinstated, we discover Iolanthe (Maria Jones) has a half-mortal son called Strephon (Paul A Heywood) who is at the Houses of Parliament seeking consent to marry a pretty Ward of Court. The Lord Chancellor (Paul Bentley), however, is not keen to give the luscious Phyllis (a deliciously flamboyant Charlotte Page) to a mere shepherd boy. He would rather have her to himself. So (of course!) the fairies must intervene.
Director Martin Connor has collected together a hodgepodge of misshapen fairies and added some naughty modern twists. Somewhat world-weary, the fairies perform Chicago-inspired dance routines with hilarious apathy and sing beautifully of their daintiness while trooping the stage with the grace of baby elephants. After their Sex and the City-style chatter, you begin to wonder whether their youthful looks are due to fairy immortality or a recent shot of Botox.
The Lords, meanwhile, give the fairies a run for their money in the dance stakes. They boogie like Kylie, while retaining the utmost parliamentary stuffiness. Whatever choreographer Bill Deamer was on, I want some.
The set and costumes are straight from Panto-land, giving the whole piece a naïve and cheeky air. There are cardboard cutout hedges, simple tinsel fairy wands and a sheep on wheels that steals the show. You will find yourself chuckling to the endless double-entendres that can be eked from a boy who is half man/half fairy. You'll probably also have to stop yourself singing along or yelling 'It's behind you!' in response to the backlit stage effects.
The second half lacks the oomph of the 'whistles and bells' first act. Royce Mills starts Act Two positively with an excellent comic solo as Private Mills, the sentry guard with an axe to grind with Stephen Byers. From there, it goes a little flat until the obligatory happy-ever-after finale.