If fairies ruled the world…
The ENO production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe (London Coliseum), directed by Cal McCrystal is camp, outrageous and has opened up the pantomime season two months early. Yes, it’s that kind of show and if you don’t believe me, check out the social media feeds of the various lords, ladies and politicians in attendance. Some of whom were viciously parodied in the show, much to the delight of a boisterous audience who were one step away away from shouting out “he’s behind you” or for those of you of a more mature age “shut that door,” most pertinent when Nadine Dorries, no not the real Nadine, pleads to be allowed entrance into the House of Lords. A chap next to me chipped in with “where’s Boris when she needs him?”
This is the tale of the fairy Iolanthe (Samantha Price) banished from fairyland for marrying a mortal. Though here it should be renamed la-la land. Meanwhile her son, Strephon (Marcus Farnsworth), wants to marry Phyllis (Ellie Laugharne) as do all the House of Peers. Phyllis then mistakenly believes Strephon has fallen for a young woman (his mum in fact – fairies are forever young) and she precipitates a confrontation between the fairies and the peers. It is sardonic satire of the political class with a party atmosphere from the get-go, introduced by a firefighter giving a health and safety warning. There are visual and verbal gags by the bucketload with a couple of highlights being a clog dance duet by Strephon and Phyllis, a raucous, drunken scene between the fairies and peers (the Bullingdon Club sprang to mind) and a dramatic, crashing entrance by a steam train.
The singing is of a very high standard by the main characters and chorus with the orchestra, conducted by Chris Hopkins, lending excellent support. And Lizzi Gee’s choreography is superbly naff in the best possible way. A night at the opera of unadulterated, comic entertainment.
Meanwhile, Sotira Kyriakides enjoys two contrasting yet complimentary shows…
Despite his repertoire including loftier classical and Hollywood roles, (Sir) Ian McKellen for me is best when he plays characters who appear to be more ‘ordinary’. This was true of his deliciously sarcastic and hilarious gay character in that wonderful TV sitcom called Vicious as the partner of the character played by the equally wonderful Derek Jacobi. It is also true of Frank and Percy (The Other Palace), which too is centred on a gay relationship. Older gay man is a part McKellen and his co-star Roger Allam wear well, and they are both lucky to have a wonderful script by relative newcomer Ben Wetherill. The humour, chemistry and repartee between the two protagonists is both joyful and poignant in its honesty and wit, and it is lovely to see both actors portray gay love and the ups and downs of two shared lives with such warmth. The play has justifiably proved very popular and has just had its run extended to 17th December.
McKellen was no fan of Margaret Thatcher but he would love Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho (Wilton’s) All hail Maggie in this terrific camptastic romp. Ding Dong the witch is back! Queen of Soho tells the unlikely story of how Maggie went from the divisive PM to a world-renowned cabaret star. It’s 1988. Britain is in turmoil. After 9 years in power the people, press and the party are turning against her. Maggie needs ideas. A moral panic is required. With leftie councils trying to indoctrinate children, Section 28 should do the trick. But after a trip to Soho will Maggie have a change of heart?…
This production is a heady mix of play, sing-a-long and pantomime. Starring its co-creator, Matt Tedford, it’s a super-fast paced comedic masterclass, delivering jokes like precision-guided missiles with seemingly effortless aplomb. In his hands, pathos and farce have never worked so well together. Using a minimal set and a pumping soundtrack, it plays with the audience in the best traditions of the music hall. Gloriously irreverent, irresistible fun.

Iolanthe – www.eno.org
Frank and Percy – www.theotherpalace.co.uk
Margaret Thatcher’s – run complete

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