Words by W.S. Gilbert and Music by Arthur Sullivan
Nuffield Theatre,
January 2005
Director: David Tatnall
Cast List
The Lord Chancellor
Lord Mountararat
Lord Tolloller
Private Willis
The Lord Chancellor’s Page
Queen of the Fairies

Notes on this performance

102. Iolanthe 

Close to perfection…

It took about five minutes of the first rehearsal to realise that vocally this show would be something special. There were 22 men and 25 women involved and the sound that they produced was sensational! Casting the main parts could have gone several ways and would still have given a strong line up. The main benefit from this was that the eventual chorus contained many performers of principal quality – a bonus when performing a show featuring The Peers’ Chorus and a lengthy Act 1 Finale.

Making his debut as an SOS Director was a youthful David Tatnall (it was also his first effort at directing adults) and if he had any qualms about organising experienced performers, he didn’t let it show. Ann Turner made a popular return as MD and she admitted in the programme that she ‘found it a great joy to be able to direct a group with such a high singing standard.’

This production featured many innovative touches created by David. In one scene, Strephon (Shaun Dodimead) went fishing in the orchestra pit and ‘caught’ a toupee, seconds later a bald member of the band (played by Ronnie Maddams) stomped on stage and demanded its return. The Peers were not roaming around the countryside in ermine gowns (as traditionally portrayed) but were out hunting and made their entry to a gunshot and a dead duck falling from above. Mountararat’s song, When Britain Really Ruled the Waves contained references to Hitler, Churchill, Bush and Afghanistan whilst Mark Allen’s Private Willis carried a thermos flask in his bearskin and had a drink from it before the additional new verse to his song.

The Echo reviewer was entranced by the production and enthused: ‘Magical moments and fairy sparkle were brought to Southampton Operatic Society’s production of Iolanthe. This fairy operetta has been entertaining audiences since 1882. David Tatnall the director and choreographer, cleverly brought the production up to date, incorporating themes from the Harry Potter books and setting the fairies in the Gilbwarts School of Fairycraft and Wizardry. This is an accomplished company and MD Ann Turner worked magic with the music, as each performer sang with panache and confidence.

David Rayner (The Lord Chancellor) was a delight and was wonderfully supported by Peter Barber (Lord Mountararat) and Mike Pavitt (Lord Tolloller), making wonderful fools of themselves by falling in love with the splendid Phyllis (Alison Vincent). The Queen of the Fairies (Janet Green) and Iolanthe (Marie Creed-Helliwell) were simply enchanting. This is a slick and humorous production. If you’re not a Gilbert and Sullivan fan, this show could convert you.’

Ticket sales were quite slow until the company realised that they had a great show on their hands and spread the word, thus the production turned a healthy profit of £4008. It was reprised at Beaulieu Abbey (making another welcome contribution to SOS finances) and was considered the Best Opera in the Echo’s Curtain Call Awards. 

Terry O'Farrell

Photo of Phyllis and Strephon

Alison Vincent (Phyllis) with Shaun Dodimead (Strephon) watched by the kilted David Rayner (Lord Chancellor) and the Peers

Photo of Strephon and Iolanthe

Shaun Dodimead (Strephon) with Marie Creed-Helliwell (Iolanthe)

Photo of Leading Men

Peter Barber (Lord Mountararat), David Rayner (Lord Chancellor), Mike Pavitt (Lord Tolloller) - in the background: Jo Short (Celia), Janet Green (The Fairy Queen), Alexandra Dunn (Leila)

Photo of Private Willis

Mark Allen (Private Willis) with Janet Green (The Fairy Queen)

Photo of Phyllis

Mike Pavitt (Lord Tolloller), Alison Vincent (Phyllis) and Peter Barber (Lord Mountararat)

Photo of Nightmare Song

The Nightmare Song with David Rayner (Lord Chancellor)