Swindon Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Steam Museum, Swindon, Saturday 10th March
Director: Derek Hill; Musical Director: Richard Abrams
Graeme Savage reports -
Being deprived of a formal theatre setting presents a remarkable number of challenges to a company, but can also bring out the best in a society, making everyone think ‘outside of the box’. Certainly, with its unusual acoustics, not to mention the occasional rumbling of a train only a few feet away from the wall, the former railway works of the Steam Museum is not an ideal venue for every performance. However, what it does have is a great sense of history, evoking the period when Gilbert & Sullivan were at the height of their popularity, and the Swindon G & S Society tapped into this atmosphere wonderfully with their traditional setting of Iolanthe. As the audience leaves the venue, walking between the carriages and powerful engines in the museum, it is easy to imagine these tunes being hummed by the workers within those very walls some 150 years earlier, adding a real poignancy to the production.
Iolanthe is one of the G&S productions with which I was less familiar - with the exception of having seen the opening Chorus of Fairies, the march of the peers, and a couple of solos performed in concerts, this was the first time I had seen a full production. Derek Hill’s unfussy direction, allied to some very clear speaking voices amongst the principal performers made even this most convoluted of Gilbert’s books very easy to follow. The simple yet effective set gave the performers plenty of space, and allowed the impressive costumes, especially for the ladies, room to ‘breathe’. Despite being a simple set, it was well lit, creating some delightful effects such as Iolanthe’s appearance from the lake.
All of the principal roles were well cast and well sung. Particular mention should be made of the young leading couple – Tom Mullins’ Strephon and Verity Doms as Phyllis – not only did they have a lovely chemistry in their acting and singing, but it also bodes well for the future of the company to be able to attract young performers (and to be able to cast age-appropriate actors!) Imogen Elnwick also impressed with her performance in the title role. The ladies chorus performed with great enthusiasm, clearly enjoying their flirtatious moments! Occasionally though, the men’s chorus numbers lacked a little energy and seemed a bit too serious. I could personally done with a few less encores of some numbers, particularly the Lords’ trio in act two – not because they were poorly performed (they weren’t), but simply as they held up the plot a little to much by that time of the evening. These criticisms aside, this was a well-performed, enjoyable production, which was lots of fun, all supported by a very well-balanced orchestra, under Richard Abrams confident direction.
Thank you as well to your very welcoming and sociable Front of House team. I wish you all the best for your future performances, and look forward to your future productions.
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