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The fairies are tutu lovely!

It’s the winged chorus that steals the show in ENO’s new production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe

22 February, 2018 — By Sebastian Taylor

ENO Iolanthe chorus of fairies. Photo: Clive Barda

Oh, those fairies! Those lovely, gorgeous fairies! They certainly steal the show in English National Opera’s new production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe.

Only, they aren’t your normal svelte-like teenage fairies, tip-toeing around on pointe shoes. No, the ENO fairies are 24 female members of its chorus, all dressed in colourful tutus. They’re all ages from young singers through to elderly ones, all shapes and sizes, lumps aplenty and the odd bump.

They’re on stage throughout much of the operetta, dancing with members of the House of Lords, pushing sheep hither and thither, emerging through trap-doors and flying around the stage with wings on.
Indeed, they’re so hilarious they carry the show through its leaden moments when every­thing can fall flat and fail to get up again. And the Queen of the Fairies is dressed in get-up straight out of a Wagner opera.

The wondrous fairies are the creation of the late designer Paul Brown and director Cal McCrystal. The latter is noted for being a director specialising in physical comedy, particularly in his Paddington film and One Man, Two Guvnors stage production. So it’s no surprise his Iolanthe is bursting with energy. Indeed, there’s so much energy that the operetta is performed without updating Gilbert’s story-line. And actually there’s no need for updating as the satirical story about House of Lords members is as relevant today as it was in the late 19th century.

Conductor Timothy Henty gives a good account of the best of Sullivan’s score. Yvonne Howard and Andrew Shore are tremendous as the Queen of the Fairies and the Lord Chancellor, and Ellie Laugharne delights as the Arcadian shepherdess and Ward in Chancery. But it’s all carried by the fairies and House of Lords chorus.

• ENO’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe is at the Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC2, until April 7. 020 7845 9300, www.eno.org

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