Cally the Monster Kitten (cally_tmk) wrote,
Cally the Monster Kitten

Harrogate Day 3 - Thursday 13th August

Our first venture up to the festival's other venue, the more intimate Harrogate Theatre, for Southampton University's gender-swapped production of Iolanthe. This was a real little gem, bursting with youthful exhuberance and a great sense of fun and mischief. The setting was brough forward 100 years to 1982, so we had male fairies dressed in leather jackets (still with wings attached) and ripped jeans, with punky hairstyles and heavy eye make-up, and lady peers in elegant dresses with swept-up hair.

The Fairy King (sporting a Queen t-shirt) was full of character, at times soft, almost coy, and at others convincingly fearsome - definitely someone you wouldn't want to argue with. The three named fairies (in this version Cecil, Liam and Philip) all had distinctive looks and personalities.

The young lovers, Stephanie and Philip were beautifully portrayed with some wonderful acting. Stephanie's singing was lovely, and Philip was delightfully vain (constantly preening and regularly checking his appearance in a small pocket mirror, which he hastily put away just as Stephanie turned to ask him if he had ever looked in the glass).

The chorus work was superb throughout, with lively and original choreography, and some fantastic tap-dancing from the ladies. A couple of points particularly worthy of mention:

  • The peers, while singing 'Into parliament she shall go' were dancing in a very controlled, almost marionette-like fashion, then shook their heads and appeared to 'come to' when they stopped singing.

  • There was a infectious energy and sense of the two sides having a go at one another in the close of the Act I finale. I practically bounced up the stairs to the bar for my interval drink!

The pace slowed a bit in the second half (but maybe that's more to do with the inherent structure of the piece?) It began with a charming reinterpretation of 'When all night long...', during which Private Willis (singing in a soft, sweet, low voice) gave a lesson on the workings of the British parlimentary system to a small group of fairies, seated on the ground in front of her, aided by some simple hand-drawn pictures on a flip-chart. There were a couple of moments later in the second act when people were a bit hesitant with their dialogue. The Lady Chancellor gave a very able rendition of the Nightmare Song.

I thought that the novel feature of this production, namely the gender swapping, actually worked very well, and encouraged the audience to look afresh at the sexual sterotypes and power dynamics in the story. It was quite unsettling to see the lady peers en masse groping and fondling poor Philip.

That last paragraph, however, is starting to sound rather serious, and the main thing I took away from the show was a sense of how much fun the cast had had in presenting it, and how successfully they had communicated that sense of fun to the audience. As I said at the start, the Harrogate Theatre is a much smaller venue than the Royal Hall, and I think being so close to the action really enhanced my enjoyment of it. I suspect this group may have struggled to make a big enough sound to fill a larger physical space, but the Harrogate Theatre was just perfect for them.
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