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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Where can you find members of the House of Lords consorting with a band of fairies? Answer: in Southwark where the company that produced the award-winning all-male Pirates of Penzance now presents another Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Iolanthe.

   Gilbert’s tale begins as the fairies beg their Queen to free their dear sister Iolanthe, banished for marrying a mortal. The Queen agrees and Iolanthe returns. She introduces her son from that marriage, Strephon, who is fairy-head over mortal-heels in love with beautiful Phylliss. But she’s the ward of the Lord Chancellor who, along with his fellow peers, is in love with her too. He’s not going to allow their marriage.

Misunderstandings, amorous tangles and revelations follow, with the law and politicians coming in for a good mocking. Finally true love wins through, not only for the lovers but for all concerned, in an ending which manages, in true Gilbertian style, to be both funny and touching.

Indeed it’s the balance between humour and feeling that Director Sasha Regan achieves that is the show’s strength. Putting an all-male cast in a play about fairies risks camp parody. But the integrity and dedication of the strong ensemble is palpable. Alan Richardson’s sweet-voiced and tender portrayal of Phylliss deserves special mention as does Kris Manuel’s blend of archness and humanity in his Fairy Queen.

Mark Smith’s choreography is outstanding. The fairies flit lightly with steps that perfectly match their songs. The Lords resemble a flock of crows as they swoop hither and thither, at turns flustered or pompous. Costumes by Jean Gray are wonderfully eclectic: dressing gowns and robes, with conker chains of office for the Lords and a mix of Victorian undergarments for the fairies. Sullivan’s fine music is given full rein with musical direction from Chris Mundy. It’s a magical evening. Put on your wings and fly to Southwark to catch it.

- Louise Gooding


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