Review – All-Male Iolanthe, Union Theatre

Thursday 2 December 2010

Another month, another opportunity for Phil to give his “State Of The Union Toilets” address to anyone who will listen.

On this occasion the opportunity to visit the otherwise agreeable Union Theatre was afforded by Sasha Regan’s follow-up to her All Male Pirates Of Penzance – All Male Iolanthe.

The approach is again to flood the thing with boys with the result that this time we are treated to falsetto fairies and possibly the least convincing House of Lords members ever to grace a stage. But all this is made more palatable by meta-setting it as a memory play in the sports equipment store of a  boys’ public school. Or something. We were a bit hazy, to be honest.

But what this did provide was the opportunity for designer Stewart Charlesworth to unleash the most delightful and imaginative aesthetic in which the fairies’ costumes are a beautiful rag-bag of corsets, badminton nets, shuttlecocks and bunting.

All this is splendidly enhanced by deaf choreographer Mark Smith’s engaging movement and a great deal of chutzpah from the cast. We particularly enjoyed the idea of the queen of the fairies being portrayed as a slightly plump Geordie – why we thought of Cheryl Cole, we don’t know, but we both did. Maybe she’s the only famous Geordie since Boys from the Black Stuff. Anyway here’s what the original Fairy Queen looked like portrayed by one Alice Barnett. Why didn’t we think of Gazza?

Anyhow, if you saw Pirates you’ll know what to expect. In many ways this is the better production but Iolanthe is not Gilbert & Sullivan’s finest hour (an assertion admittedly based on the Whingers having only seen two and a half  G&S operettas. On the other hand the blurb asserts it “is universally regarded as one of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s most beautiful scores”). The over-stretched story (stretched from 20 minutes’ worth to two and a half hours) gives you plenty of opportunity to marvel at the repetitiveness of the lyrics and to wonder what’s with all the “Tantantara-ing” an “Fa Fa-ing”.

Satirical swipes at Liberals and Conservatives are particularly resonant today. Little has changed although a modern sensibility produced appropriately schoolboy sniggers from Phil with “round about our fairy ring” and “I’ll give thee one” and the resolution that the House of Lords might be away with the fairies seemed appropriate.

Song-wise the highlight of the show is undoubtedly the amusingly frantic nightmare song (“When You’re Lying Awake”) adeptly delivered by Lord Chancellor (Shaun McCourt)*:

For you dream you are crossing
The Channel, and tossing
About in a steamer from Harwich—
Which is something between
A large bathing machine
And a very small second-class carriage

Talcum powder is liberally wafted around in Act 2 for reasons we were unable to fathom. Was Sasha Regan taking no chances with the Union’s facilities? It wasn’t necessary. Phil is pleased to be able to report that the Union has clearly splashed out on a pair of Marigolds and been extremely busy with the Toilet Duck or Mary Archer or something: the loos were positively fragrant.

If you didn’t see Pirates, you should definitely see this.


*Perhaps Daniel Radcliffe was auditioning for Sasha Regan with his impressive rendition of “The Elements” on The Graham Norton Show:


8 Responses to “Review – All-Male Iolanthe, Union Theatre”

  1. JohnnyFox Says:

    Nominee for the TBA ‘most original usage of talcum powder in an onstage setting’ award ?

  2. Elixa Says:

    Would love to hear the State of the Union Toilets address. I have photo to go with it. Could be a Powerpoint presentation.

  3. Kevin Kelly Says:

    I think the talcum powder is meant to evoke the dust and cobwebs that attach to the noble house! It’s a brilliant piece of work but I am afraid that unless (and hopefully until!) it transfers there won’t be much chance for anyone to see it as all the tickets looked to be sold out!

  4. Paul Thurtle Says:

    I think this is a great production – we have seen it twice already and are going again on Sunday and next Thursday. The music is amazing and the lyrics brilliant (and I didn’t like G & S until we saw their production of Pirates!)
    The setting in the Union Theatre is lovely, the voices sweet and the dancing spot on. Each cast member gives a fantastic performance.
    What we found especially interesting was Mark Smith’s exciting choreography and how he slipped in the use of Deaf Sign Language into the songs; as signers we found that this added to our enjoyment!
    Chris Mundy’s musical direction ensured that every note was spot on and every voice blended perfectly.
    I hope that, like Pirates, the show will transfer to Wiltons Music Hall.
    It gets 5 stars from me – my only grumble is that it finishes on Saturday 11th December!

  5. webcowgirl Says:

    I loved this show! It’s almost embarassing how much I enjoyed myself. How do they make so much magic with such little budgets? The National could really learn from The Union.

  6. Martin Says:

    Nice enough. But why not get Thom Southerland back to direct them? It’s just got a little too overtly camp, I’m not opposed to campness but it worked better before.

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