A Word With…Gilbert and Sullivan Society

It’s that time of year again: Nottingham University’s Gilbert and Sullivan society are putting on their annual performance. This year the chosen opera is Iolanthe, a gentle political satire first performed in 1882. Impact Arts talks to Gilbert and Sullivan’s Welfare Representative and Iolanthe cast member, Lydia Hawthorn, to find out more.

What was behind the choice of Iolanthe out of all the operas?

Gilbert and Sullivan’s most well-known productions, HMS Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance had been done a few years ago and we wanted to do a production that was light-hearted but full of energy. The contrast between the Lords and the Fairies really suited our ensemble too because we have an equal number of guys and girls. Plus, what’s not to love about fairies, magic and treachery?

Can you give us a short synopsis of the plot?

Iolanthe was the Fairy Queen’s favourite fairy until she fraternised with a mortal and was banished for eternity. The other fairies beg for Iolanthe’s return and when the Fairy Queen agrees we find out that Iolanthe has a son, Strephon. Strephon is in love with Phylis and the rest of the story follows their love and the Lords’ disapproval.

Visually speaking, have you kept the production traditional or tried to make it a little more modern?

Well we have definitely stuck to appropriate costume, but we really liked the idea of the fairies being a girl gang of sorts, with matching pink gear- the works! You’ll see some impressive facial appendage from Dan and David, two of the main Lords, who have been growing their beards specifically for their roles!

I understand that Iolanthe is a political satire, although very much of its time: is this side of the opera brought forth in your production?

We definitely can see how the elitism of the Lords is relevant now and we have been working to include allusions to the modern political climate in the production through costume mainly. The themes that are addressed are always going to be relevant though.

A big question, but can you explain your reasons for loving Gilbert and Sullivan?

Ultimately it involves two hours of total enjoyment where there is no need to concentrate very hard or worry about confusing plots, you can literally sit back and relax. The music is upbeat and catchy, and the composition really suits an ensemble cast. Everyone always ends up living happily ever after too, which is no bad thing! Their productions are always so lively and vibrant with lots of group scenes and big dances- just wait to see the epic 43-page Act One finale!

Finally, why should Nottingham students come and see Iolanthe?

If you want to come and see a production that will put a smile on your face and provide easy watching then Iolanthe is for you guys. We’ve worked really hard to bring you a musically sound and generally entertaining show that we really love performing in. Plus it’s funny, and when musical theatre and comedy come together, you’ll never be disappointed.

Joel Davie

Iolanthe is showing Wednesday 20th March to Saturday 23 March  at Nottingham Arts Theatre. See website for ticket details:


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