Words by W.S. Gilbert and Music by Arthur Sullivan
The Guildhall,
April 1938
Cast List
The Lord Chancellor
Earl of Mountararat
Earl Tolloller (a)
Earl Tolloller (b)
Private Willis (a)
Private Willis (b)
Queen of the Fairies (a)
Queen of the Fairies (b)
Iolanthe (a)
Iolanthe (b)
Celia (a)
Celia (b)
Leila (a)
Leila (b)
Fleta (a)
Fleta (b)
Phyllis (a)
Phyllis (b)

Notes on this performance

15. Iolanthe

A new home…

Just as things were going well, rumours were rife that the Grand Theatre would be closed for much of 1938 - it did close down during the war years but then re-opened as the New Hippodrome before reverting to its original name and being demolished in 1959. The Committee was keen to get back to G&S and, at the AGM, recommended The Gondoliers as a suitable production but, true to form, the meeting had ideas of its own and voted for Iolanthe by a margin of 32 to 16.

The Manager of the Grand then contacted SAOS saying that the theatre would be open during April and offered a hire at £150 for the week but, in the meantime, the Guildhall had quoted £135 and their manager came to a meeting to assure everyone that the venue would be ‘suitable for amateurs’. Further negotiations with the Grand resulted in their quotation rising to £230 so the Society rather nervously opted for the Guildhall and to face the difficulties posed by its size and lack of wings on the stage.

Unsurprisingly, the Committee then decided to stage Pinafore/Trial but had second thoughts due to the length of time that it would take the men to change costumes and make up between operas so reverted to Iolanthe. The Mayor was very supportive and promised to take a block of 100 seats on Wednesday. The tax authorities, however, were not so helpful as they would only exempt SAOS from the Entertainment Tax if it guaranteed 25% of the gross receipts to charity - this was not acceptable. Meanwhile, Mr Mitchell was dissatisfied with the work of some of the chorus and letters were sent warning them that they would be ‘excluded from performing unless they improved’.

Double-casting was still the order of the day, this time only three roles were spared (Chancellor, Mountararat and Strephon), and, as there were concerns about the chorus being strong enough to be heard over Mr Andrews’ 30 piece orchestra in the cavernous hall, most of those double-cast were required to join the chorus during their ‘evenings off’. The Echo report showed particular interest in the suitability of the new venue, ‘Booking the town’s biggest public building for a five night’s run of Iolanthe is a bold venture, both artistically and financially. It is a venture that deserves success. Last night’s production was the biggest of its kind staged in the Guildhall since the opening week pageant just over a year ago. And it was first rate!’ Using rather dubious terminology, he continued, ‘It may sound an Irishism, but the great size of the Guildhall is its limitation for some kinds of show, and if a performer gets close to the footlights the features become a patchwork of shadows.’ However, the set itself was clearly seen as, ‘the second act set drew forth a spontaneous burst of applause. It is certainly very striking.’

After paying £56 16s 1d (£56.80) Entertainment Tax, the production made a profit of £27 – funds were transferred from the general account to bring it up to £50 and this was shared equally between the Toc H Seafaring Boys’ Home and the Albion Clubland. The Mayor of Portsmouth also invited the Society to perform Iolanthe in the Portsmouth Guildhall but the venue was not thought to be suitable.

Terry O'Farrell

Photo of Phyllis and Strephon

Alfred J Tomlin (Earl of Mountararat), Kathleen Reeves (Phyllis), Alfred Warren (Earl Tolloller)

 LB books dog

Hopefully coming to you in early 2021!