Loudly Let The Trumpet Bray!

Conflict resumes between the House of Lords and Fairy Kingdom for the trillionth time on the 15th and 16th of March at King Ecgbert’s School, Dore to raise funds for Cavendish Cancer Care.

If that is a trifle cryptic, Gilbert and Sullivan’s perennially popular Iolanthe is being staged, with an uncommon slant!

Performing it is a group calling itself Vintage G&S signifying that its members are of a certain age and largely entitled to bus passes, as well as indicating the years of G&S experience and expertise within its ranks.

None of the performers are under any illusion that they are in the first flush of youth and age should not be seen as a deterrent, assuming you can accept an older person playing a younger one.

In fact, this would only really be noticeable with two characters, plus a third perhaps given Iolanthe herself never ages. No even after being banished to frog-infested watery realms for having married a mortal 25 years earlier before the action takes place.

The other two are the Strephon, an Arcadian shepherd, and his sweetheart Phyllis, the former being Iolanthe’s son with whom she has clearly kept in regular contact during her exile.

Unaware, Phyllis is none too pleased when she sees the two embracing and, not unnaturally, doesn’t believe it when told – “No girl could care for a man who goes about with a mother considerably younger than himself!”

Iolanthe’s age is mooted as 17, the age Elizabeth Birkby was when she first sang the role in a Sheffield Youth Opera production in 1967 and she will be re-creating it at King Ecgbert’s School in March.

Vintage G&S came into being following a chance meeting of some former South Yorkshire Opera (long memories needed!) members. As they reminisced, a shared love of Gilbert and Sullivan surfaced leading to a desire to perform G&S opera together again for pleasure.

Among ex-South Yorkshire Opera involvement in the production is Caroline Dyson who has played nearly all the leading G&S mezzo-soprano roles, including Iolanthe for SYO in 1990. Here, she plays the Fairy Queen for the first time – traditionally, a contralto role.

As the eventual object of her desire, Private Willis, the much-experienced bass Nigel Rothery reprises the role he played in the SYO staging.

Derby baritone and conductor Morris Fisher, a one-time SYO principal, knows all about the role of Strephon having played him many times before, marrying his stage mother (Iolanthe) after one production. Marion Fisher will be on stage with him again here, as a ‘vintage’ fairy!

A more familiar SYO name, Mary McCready, takes on Phyllis for the first time, the role having somehow eluded her during many years as lead soprano with Chesterfield G&S.

Having performed Gilbert and Sullivan around Wales and Yorkshire with considerable success, the only G&S opera to that has eluded Rotherham-based vicar Simon Copley so far is not the predictable Grand Duke, but Ruddigore.

He is the Lord Chancellor and more about him in due course.

Filling other roles are Geoff Fenwick, Jonathan Parsons, Vivien Carrack, Sheila Rothman and Penny Walker all supported by a chorus drawn from G&S societies such as Dore, Birley Carr and the former City Comic.

John Wade, founder of the John Wade Singers, re-surfaces to conduct proceedings, which are directed by Jan Ashford (SYO), and Jonathan Lazell is the accompanist.

Tickets, £12, can be obtained from Ian Ashford: 01246 415050, or Liz Blanshard: O1246 419830.