Cast

Notes for 1997 production.

The curtain opens on a rustic scene, a fairy glade, and Celia, Fleta and Leila are recalling, with the female chorus, that it is 25 years since Iolanthe (the life and soul of fairyland) was banished to the bottom of a stream by the Fairy Queen for having committed the sin of marrying a mortal. Enter the Queen, and the fairies all plead for Iolanthe to be allowed to return, Surprise, surprise, the queen relents.. It turns out that Iolanthe has a son, one Strephon, who is half fairy, half man - a fairy down to the waist. Ho hum.

He is an Arcadian shepherd, who is in love with Phyllis, a ward of court. He comes in and inevitably sings a song. All the fairies are his aunts, and because they are fairies, they look NO OLDER THAN HE DOES....Phyllis enters, and with a song or so, they intend to defy the Lord Chancellor and get married anyway, despite the fact that half the House of Lords is at her feet.

Next, on come the said Peers with their Peers' chorus, one of the most stirring pieces Sullivan wrote. After this the Lord Chancellor enters, and the Lords ask him who should be allowed to marry Phyllis, to which the Lord Chancellor admits that he too fancies her. The Lords Mountararat and Tolloller plead their suit, at which point Phyllis comes in and tells them that she's having none of it as she is marrying Strephon. The Queen comes in and backs her up, adding into the bargain that she is on Strephon's side, and is sending him into Parliament. What is more, any bill that he chooses shall be passed by both Houses of Parliament, despite their protestations. To general uproar ends Act one.

Act two, opens with Sergeant Willis (another of Gilbert's characters that do not appear until Act two) standing on sentry duty outside Westminster. He thinks aloud in another famous song.

Enter the fairies, saying 'Strephon's a member of Parliament' - in other words yah boo to the Peers. Lord Mountararat expresses his annoyance at the Peerage being open to competitive examination - they have got along quite nicely up till now, thank you. However the fairies and the Peers are quite attracted to one another.

Phyllis is bothered that Strephon goes about with 'a mother considerably younger that himself' - 'Whenever I see you kissing a young girl' she says, 'I shall know it is only an elderly relative'. The two main Peers decide not to fight a duel over Phyllis but settle it amicably. Now on comes the Lord Chancellor, who cannot sleep, and he regales us with the Nightmare Song.

The Lord Chancellor decides that HE will marry Phyllis, until Iolanthe turns up, and he finds out that she is his wife, and Strephon is their son. He relents, and as Strephon and Phyllis are happily united. But what about the rest of the cast? How will the plot resolve itself? Confused? You will be!

IOLANTHE - THE STORY.

The curtain opens on a fairy glade, and Celia, Leila and the ladies' chorus are recalling that it is 25 years since Iolanthe (who was then the life and soul of fairyland) was banished to the bottom of a stream by the Fairy Queen for having committed the sin of marrying a mortal. Iolanthe should have died for marrying a mortal, but her sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life on condition that she cease communication with her husband without explanation immediately. She chose a stream to be near to her son, Strephon. When the Queen enters, the fairies all plead for Iolanthe to be allowed to return, and as the Queen also misses her, she relents and Iolanthe reappears, forgiven.

Now Strephon, who has a fairy mother and a mortal father is half fairy, half man - a fairy down to the waist. Ho hum.... He is an Arcadian shepherd, who is in love with Phyllis, a ward of court. He enters playing his flageolet, and inevitably sings a song. Phyllis follows him and, with a song or so, they tell us that despite the fact that they have not got the Lord Chancellor's permission, (Phyllis is a ward of court) they intend to defy him and get married anyway, as they cannot wait any longer. Being a fairy has certain embarrassments for Strephon, for instance, what will happen to him as he grows older - his bottom half will age whilst his top half remains young ? (Answers on a postcard, please....)

The Peers from the House of Lords now enter to discuss the question of a suitable husband for Phyllis, as they are all head over heels in love with her. (Don't ask why the House of Lords appear in a fairy glade, I don't know either). The Peers' chorus must be one of the most stirring pieces Sullivan wrote. After their song the Lord Chancellor enters, and the Lords ask him who should be allowed to marry Phyllis, to which the Lord Chancellor admits that he too fancies her. The Lords Mountararat and Tolloller plead their suit, at which point Phyllis comes in and tells them to their consternation that she's having none of it as she is marrying Strephon, and what is more, the Queen comes in with all the fairies and they back her up.

However, also with them comes Iolanthe, and as Strephon is pleased to see her, he goes to embrace her. Phyllis is somewhat miffed at this since all she can see is Strephon embracing somebody his own age (Remember, fairies do not age !) AND that he is surrounded by a bevy of other apparently young ladies, and so tells the Lords that she will marry either Lord Tolloller or Lord Mountararat, but as to which she does not care. As the fairies intervene, their appearance only confirms the suspicion of all the Lords that Strephon is dallying with a seventeen year old girl whilst formally paying court to one of their wards. Finally the Fairy Queen speaks on behalf of the boy, but it takes a serious threat from her to do anything. She tells the gentlemen who she is, and she appoints Strephon as a member of Parliament. What is more, both Houses of Parliament, despite their protestations shall pass any bill that he chooses. The battle lines are drawn. The Peers and the fairies make themselves ready for a war to the finish.

Act two, opens with Private Willis (another of Gilbert's characters that do not appear until Act two) standing on nocturnal sentry duty outside the Palace of Westminster. He contemplates that Parliaments have sat and risen time and time again, but the parties go on for ever. Plus ca change..... But the old order changeth and the fairies enter, singing 'Strephon's a member of Parliament' - in other words yah boo to the Peers. One of Strephon's bills is that the House of Peers will be thrown open to competitive examination, and the implications of this do not bear thinking about. Lord Mountararat expresses his annoyance at this, after all they have got along quite nicely up till now, thank you.

During his song extolling the Peerage, Celia and Leila are charmed by him and each determines to have a Peer for herself. The other fairies are similarly attracted to the rest of the Peers. The Queen has to remind them that it is death to marry a mortal, but despite this she becomes aware of Private Willis, and is very attracted to him. It must be something about the uniform....

Meanwhile, Phyllis has found herself engaged to both Lord Mountararat and Lord Tolloller, because of Strephon's apparent duplicity. The two noble Lords do not know what to do to solve their problem, and exit in confusion, passing the Lord Chancellor who is also very confused. He sings us the Nightmare song. This must be one of Gilbert's best set of lyrics as the Lord Chancellor explains his nightmare with the bizarre kind of logic only a dream can have.

After his song, Strephon enters in low spirits, and he meets Phyllis; their manner is restrained; he knows she is engaged to two noblemen and she thinks he loves another his own age. They explain this to each other and as Phyllis realises that it was Strephon's mother, they decide again to get married without delay. 'Whenever I see you kissing a young girl' she says, 'I shall know it is only an elderly relative'. Very trusting.....

Iolanthe enters to greet her prospective daughter-in-law, and meets the Lord Chancellor. The secret is now revealed: He was her husband and so Strephon is his son! In comes the Fairy Queen at this moment and catches Iolanthe and the Lord Chancellor together. So for the second time Iolanthe has broken the Fairy law and she must be punished, this time with death. By this time all the fairies are in love with the Lords, and even the Queen herself has the hots for Private Willis. What can she do? The Lord Chancellor then rises to the occasion and suggests amending the fairy law that states 'it is death to all fairies who marry a mortal' by the simple insertion of one word - 'it is death to all fairies who don't marry a mortal'. With this everybody is delighted, and all get paired off, even the Queen with Private Willis and away they all go to fairyland.

HISTORICAL NOTE:

Iolanthe opened on November 25th 1882 and 'The Era' recorded that "the Savoy theatre, lighted like no other theatre in Europe, and looking exceptionally brilliant on this occasion, was crammed to its utmost capacity". Not without reason, since although it had been introduced during the run of the previous show (Patience) the Savoy was completely lit by electricity for the first time. The gas was still kept on - just in case...This was the production that legend had it Richard D'Oyly Carte came onto the stage with a bare electric light bulb, lit, and then proceeded to wrap it in a white handkerchief and smash it to prove that electricity was safe. All other theatres were lit by gas, and electricity must have been a very welcome novelty. Think of the heat that all those lit (and unsafe) gas burners would have generated, not to mention the soot. All London Society would have been there as a Gilbert and Sullivan premiere was certainly an occasion not to be missed. Gilbert took advantage of the electricity to provide in the night-time second act, the fairies with 'an electric star in their hair'. These self-lighting fairies had 'electricity stored somewhere about the small of their backs'. One can just imagine those wonderful Victorian mahogany and brass battery holders.....

Another trick of Gilbert's was to have wings sprout from the backs of all the Peers at the end of the opera 'by a concealed cord'. It must have been very effective to the Victorian audience. Gilbert would have been the first to incorporate any new theatrical tricks to impress his audiences - a sort of early Andrew Lloyd Webber - only much better.

The Fairy Queen's song had in it a line about 'Oh Captain Shaw'. He was the Chief Fire Officer at the time and had a reputation as a ladies' man. He was in the middle of the front row on the opening night and must have got a considerable shock to find himself addressed by the Queen and all the fairies from the stage. As anybody who was anybody was also there, the rest of his contemporaries were much amused.

The original production must have quite expensive to stage as Gilbert was a stickler for 'getting it right' For instance, all the Peers had to have correct attire for their character, and were dressed by the official Victorian court costumiers. If you look at a Peer's crown the embellishments are different depending whether he is a Lord, an Earl or whatever. The number of balls on the points and the strawberry leaves between them differ. Not many people know that.

It is over a hundred years since the first production in 1881, and although neither Gilbert nor Sullivan would recognise the world nowadays as it has changed so much in the last century, Gilbert's words are still appropriate - there is a reference to Baring's bank in the nightmare song, and this must have been a modern nightmare for the bank with the antics of one Nick Leeson losing millions of pounds and bankrupting them. Their works are still very popular, as videos of most of the operas are available as well as countless recordings. There was even a feature film of 'The Pirates of Penzance'. This was no filmed stage performance, but a proper widescreen epic. Filmmakers do not spend millions of dollars if they are not fairly sure of the returns.

The Manchester University Gilbert & Sullivan Society was founded in 1950 from, of all things, the French Society; Two of the French students were keen G&S fans, and it all started there. In those days, performances were in the Arthur Worthington Hall, down Dover Street opposite the University refectory. This building has long been demolished, but I would be interested in any reminiscences. For instance, who WAS Arthur Worthington himself? MUGSS moved into the Renold theatre (for the first performance there I believe, with Iolanthe in 1964, and we have been here ever since. Membership varies from year to year, but usually starts with some 220 people and in common with many University Societies gradually reduces to some 70 or so, as various students decide that G&S is not for them, or that they cannot give the commitment required. However, I think you will agree that we are an enthusiastic lot, so enjoy the show: I know we will.

Strephon's song in Act Two 'Fold your flapping wings' was cut from the original production, but we have reinstated it to its rightful place. Unlike a lot of the cuts that were made in the various operas, the music has survived and was printed in all the early American editions. The Pierpont Morgan library in New York has the world's best G&S collection and it was from here that I obtained the piano and voice part as a photocopy of the relevant pages in the American vocal score. With a description of the song's orchestration, I took it from there. When Iolanthe was broadcast in the recent Radio 2 series of Gilbert and Sullivan on the twelve Sunday afternoons before Christmas; in the interval talk there was a performance of this song, and the speaker said that the manuscript version survives, bound at the back of Sullivan's original score. This is kept by the D'Oyly Carte company, and they do not seem to want anybody looking at it (I wonder why the secrecy) Consequently we have had no access to this, but our arrangement sounds remarkably similar to that of Sullivan. Gilbert and Sullivan's works are still popular, since not only was the radio 2 series, but Channel Four transmitted the film of 'The Pirates of Penzance' on new year's eve - and this was repeated the following week on S4C. This was no filmed stage performance, but a proper wide screen epic. Filmmakers do not spend millions of dollars if they are not fairly sure of their return.