WHEN Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe had its premiere at London’s Savoy Theatre in 1882, leading lady Jessie Bond made her first entrance as the banished fairy at the heart of a political scandal across a real stream...and on one memorable evening it even boasted a genuine frog chorus.
Adding to the spectacle, the production was the first fully electrified show ever seen in the West End – Iolanthe’s fairy colleagues even wore small battery packs that illuminated stars in their hair.
More than a hundred years later, director Graham Weston admits his Dore Gilbert and Sullivan Society revival might not run to such extravagance and it’s unlikely you’ll see a drenched fairy tripping through real water on this occasion.
No real frogs on stage at the Montgomery Theatre then but Graham still thinks there’ll be plenty to enjoy in his new take on a timeless political satire.
“Hopefully we’ll have one or two very special effects,” is the most he’s prepared to say at this stage.
“Being on stage at the Montgomery again after our last couple of shows at the Drama Studio, we can be a little more extravagant – and I’m looking forward to that.”
As is usual for Dore, Graham will – give or take the dry ice and glitz – be presenting a mainly traditional take on the piece, retaining the Victorian setting of the G&S original.
That doesn’t mean, though, that he won’t be having some fun with Gilbert’s lyrics.
The story of a fairy who is banished from fairyland because of her relationship with the man who becomes Britain’s Lord Chancellor - and returns from the bottom of a pond years later to reveal that she is the mother of a half fairy son who then decides to enter parliament - is the stuff that great political satire is made of. And in an age when, then as now, sex scandals abound in the Corridors of Power, you could argue that the piece needs few if any changes at all.
“The political satire still works very well today,” Graham agrees. “There are allusions in there and digs at politicians that are still very relevant – it simply never ages.
“That said, I’m going to put one or two topical references in there – I’m just waiting right now because I want them to be as up to date as possible.”
Beyond the politics, though, Graham hopes audiences will simply enjoy some of Arthur Sullivan’s finest music, especially as the society has a new Musical Director, Sheffield based professional musician Andrew Griffiths. The former Tapton School pupil is a familiar face on the city’s amateur circuit.
With Ellesmere Operatic Society at the Montgomery Theatre he worked on shows as varied as My Fair Lady, Chess and Jekyll and Hyde.
He was assistant MD for the Denys Edwards Players on their production of The Wind in the Willows and for Endellion Theatre he worked on large scale revivals of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies and A Little Night Music and Broadway classic The King and I, while for Sheffield Teachers’ Operatic Society he was MD for a groundbreaking 2007 version of Sweeney Todd at Kelham Island Industrial Museum.
Professionally, the 29-year-old graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music has spent the last few years on the road with major professional touring musicals like Evita, Scrooge, Beauty and the Beast and South Pacific.
Dore Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s production of Iolanthe runs at the Montgomery Theatre in Surrey Street from April 10 to 13. For tickets call 0114 2507155 or download a booking form from the society website at www.doregass.co.uk