Mar 27 2019 | By More

★★★☆☆    Concise

Teviot Row House: Tue 26 – Sat 30 March 2019
Review by Thom Dibdin

There is a pleasing and playful lightness of tone to the Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group’s production of Iolanthe, which is at the Teviot Debating Hall until Saturday.

The staging is minimal – a starry backcloth is about your lot – and the band has but eight members. Yet director Izzy Parris has a deft touch and ensures that this is far from being a glorified concert performance.

Naimh Higgins. Pic Erica Belton

Iolanthe is touted as being Gilbert and Sullivan at the height of their powers and, in many ways, it is. Although the sparkling score doesn’t have the kind or earworm tunes that The Mikado carries nor, indeed, is its twisted comic scheme open to too much updating.

So it is to Parris and MD Sam McLellan’s huge credit that they take the raw material and present it with the maximum of clarity. There is no problem in following this most convoluted of plots and, with some notably fine wind players at his disposal, McLellan achieves a real rapport between the performers and the band.

Choreographer Sarah-Louise Christy has constructed a little introduction in a twilit staging during the overture, in which a fairy dances with – and then seduces – a mortal. The outcome is left to the imagination as he carries her off, stage left, but the intentions are very clear.

And so it is that the plot revolves around the fairy Iolanthe, beloved of her Queen but banished for marrying a mortal 25 years ago. When she is rehabilitated to the fairy band it is discovered she has a son, Strephon, a poor shepherd, who is half fairy, half mortal.

complex mix

Strephon wants to marry the beautiful Phyllis. But she is a ward Chancery, so he can only do so at the say so of the Lord Chancellor – who has eyes for her himself. As do the rest of the House of Lords.

Max Prentice and Naimh Higgins with faires. Pic Erica Belton

Georgie Carey is well-cast as Iolanthe. She has the slightly haughty attitude of a Queen’s favourite without appearing arrogant, and has a warm, fluid singing voice. Amy Knowles and May Evans give equally good accounts as the most vocal fairies, Celia and Leila, who come to Iolanthe’s support.

It is Naimh Higgins as the Fairy Queen who really delivers. She seems to be channeling the headmistress of a junior boarding school – there is a complex mix of the despotic and overtly emotional about her caring for her fairy brood.

It’s not just Higgins’ commanding delivery, either. Her movement is delicate and precise but when she opens her thrapple and lets rip, she has a fully rounded voice with Wagnerian qualities and real depth behind the embellishments.

There is not a huge amount of characterisation for Max Prentice to give to Strephon, whose top half is fairy and bottom half is mortal and mostly has to stand around looking either heroic, lover-lorn or put-upon. He achieve each with suitable clarity.


Issy Crutchley has a lot more scope as Phyllis. First loving Strephon, then falling out of love when she sees him kissing a 17 year old and offering herself to the richest Lord who will have her and finally falling back in love.

Issy Crutchley with Lords. Pic Erica Belton

In a performance replete with looks that carry much more than any words could ever convey, her glance of sorrow on learning which half of Strephon is mortal is one to treasure. Her voice, although not particularly strong, has a lovely clarity in the upper register, which carries in all the right places.

There are some strong performances from the various Lords as well. In particular, Nathaniel Forsyth acquits himself admirably as the Lord Chancellor. His delivery of the tongue-twisting patter song, Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest, is a real treat and, on opening night, was brilliantly carried off despite some potentially catastrophic wardrobe issues.

Ewan Bruce and Gordon Horne give good accounts of the two ancient Earls who fancy their chances with Phyllis. Bruce, with his glacial demeanour and a rich singing voice, is particularly good value. While Patrick Hall as the soldier guarding the house of Lords, combines a strong physical performance with a pleasing vocal delivery.

However it is with the female performers that Izzy Parriss finds most depth. While there is a deal of mugging from the Lords that is funny enough, it is the fairies’ attention to the detail of their reactions that is most effective.

Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes (including one interval)
Teviot Debating Hall, Teviot Row House, 13 Bristo Square, EH8 9AJ
Tuesday 26 – Saturday 30 March 2019.
Tue/Wed, Fri/Sat: 7.30pm; Matinee Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book now.

Issy Crutchley and Max Prentice. Pic Erica Belton


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