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Iolanthe at Watford Palace Theatre***
3:42pm Thursday 26th January 2012 in Freetime
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single peer in possession of a good tune must be in debt to Sullivan. The chorus of peers is a high point of this production of Iolanthe, and its twin peak is the chorus of fairies. The peers declare with infectious confidence, referring to the Napoleonic War,
'The House of Peers, throughout the war,
Did nothing in particular,
And did it very well.'
The two leading peers, the Earl of Mountararat and Earl Tololler, were well performed by Matthew Gregory and Russell Stratton.
Glbert's skills in versification and paradox are just as important as Sullivan's music to the enduring success of their operettas - Iolanthe was first produced at the Savoy Theatre in 1882. Musically, among their works, it has a special quality. There are reminiscences of the serious operatic repertoire: Donizetti and Wagner, for instance.
Sullivan gave particular care to the overture. The Finale of Act I is one of his most extended and ambitious compositions in this genre. Inevitably, in a small theatre for an amateur production, a reduced orchestra is used: Philip Joslin, as musical director, conducted both singers and orchestra effectively.
As Strephon, Richard Jackson sang pleasantly and clearly. Gareth Edwards as the Lord Chancellor sang with excellent tone and style, notably in the patter song 'When you're lying awake with a dismal headache', but not always loudly enough.
Katherine Littler had two responsibilities. She performed well as Phyllis, and was also production manager, which must have made it difficult to ensure that the cast knew the trick of addressing the audience rather than just each other.
Unfortunately, according to the announcement given beforehand, Debbie Southorn had lost her voice and could not sing as Queen of the Fairies. However, she had the necessary dominating presence and made a good shot at miming to an amplified voice from off-stage.
Current British politics give extra point to some of Gilbert's satire. The observation by Private Willis (well sung by Colin Walker) about the choice between Liberals and Conservatives means more today than for a century. Strephon leads both parties in Parliament - what do we make of that!
Much depends on the title part. Jennifer Carr has a good voice, but it is not yet quite strong enough; nor was the chorus of fairies. But their costumes were delightful and they danced well - not easy to combine with singing - and perhaps that will be the enduring memory of this production.
Iothane runs at Watford Palace until January 28. Details: 01923 225671