Gone are the makeshift tinsel fairy headdresses of the deliciously camp Iolanthe. Instead, we welcome in full medieval garb and a 'whistles and bells' revolving stage design for this tragicomedy set in the Tower of London.
Our heroine Phoebe (Maria Jones) has taken a fancy to Colonel Fairfax (the wonderfully whimsical Oliver White), one of the Tower's handsome prisoners. By hoodwinking her unwelcome admirer Shadbolt the Jailor (Graham Stone), Phoebe quickly masterminds Fairfax's escape.
All does not go to plan however. Before his break for freedom, the Colonel rashly married another as a final pre-beheading request. Now free of prison, he's bound matrimonially from taking Phoebe as his bride. Elsie (Janet Fairlie) his unwilling wife is similarly stuck. She only consented to the marriage for the cash reward and the promise she would be immediately widowed.
Many Shakespearean tricks keep the tale twisting this way and that. There's a scene-stealing fool (an energised Paul Barnhill), plenty of dressing up as someone else and a script full of quips and wordplay. But, though musically proficient, the lead vocalists lack the G&S diction and clarity essential for telling the story in as clear manner as you'd wish. You also crave more from the fantastic company of Beefeaters and fishwives who animate the stage at intervals throughout the show.
All is forgiven, however, due to the delightful series of characters created by the strong cast. Most notably, Jill Pert as the fierce torturer Dame Carruthers, who goes weak at the knees for her beloved Sergeant Meryll (Gareth Jones). Sophie-Louise Dann also transforms herself stunningly against type into the Dame's ogre-ish sidekick Kate, with fantastic comic affect.
D'Oyly Carte's Iolanthe, with its joke-a-minute delivery and cheeky pop video dance routines, was a hard act to follow. But, in spite of the slow story setting at the start, their Yeomen succeed in delivering a worthy sequel.
- Julie Goodhand