In 1882 Iolanthe, or The Peer and the Peri, opening at London’s Savoy Theatre. In a first for any play, Iolanthe opened simultaneously in London and New York and two casts rehearsed alongside one another in the run up top opening night.
W.S Gilbert first had his idea for a storyline similar to Iolanthe in one of his Bab Ballads entitled “The Fairy Curate” where a fairy marries a mortal.
In true Gilbert and Sullivan fashion, Iolanthe is a satire poking fun at supposedly ineffectual and over-privileged House of Lords. Iolanthe is often famed for its sumptuous costume and effects to make the fairy world ever more realistic. In fact advances in technology meant that even in the very first shows, the fairies had headdresses of fairy lights powered by small batteries.
The absurdity of the show is not lost with all members of the House of Lords in love with the heroine Phyllis and Strephon in charge of the entire Parliament. Upon opening, the operetta received rave reviews and critical acclaim.
Iolanthe was the first of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works to be performed by a non-D’Oyle Carte company when it was produced by the Sadler’s Wells Opera in January 1962.
One of the lines from the play “this comes of women interfering in politics” was oft-quoted when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. One of the most iconic songs in Gilbert and Sullivan’s canon – and certainly one of my favourites – the March of the Peers comes from Iolanthe and sounds utterly sublime when well performed by a good male voice.
Bingley Gilbert and Sullivan have performed Iolanthe on six occasions and of course our 2017 production will be Iolanthe, for which tickets are already on sale.