Wiltons Music Hall is about the most exciting hidden treasure I have ever discovered in London. It’s the WORLD’S OLDEST MUSIC HALL (take that Paree!) appearing somewhere around the 1850s, and the minute I cycled down a cobbled alley near Tower Bridge and looked at its beautifully crumbly walls, I fell a little bit in love. Inside it has a cute little bar (apparently featuring in Sherlock Homes 2), relaxed staff, bunting – BUNTING – and a fantastic theatre with wonderful accoustics. You can feel the history seeping out of its cracked peeling walls, you may as well be in the middle of a Shakespearean play yourself.
And so this was the venue for Sasha Regan’s all-male production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe. Which we hadn’t realised when all three of us – me, Vodka Princess and Penelope – turned up at the Union Theatre, its former venue, oops. But we were incredibly glad to have legged it to Wiltons, which was probably the best theatrical venue I’ve ever been to in London (sorry, Soho Theatre, although I still love you too and your visibility is better – I sat behind someone with a giant heid at Wiltons so had to move). It needs money to stop it falling down, which it is doing – literally – the shabby chic is not decorative (I did wonder, we were in East London after all), so do donate if you can or go along to have a drink at the bar and listen to music.
LtoR Matthew McLoughlin, Patrick George and Joseph Davenport in IOLANTHE (photo by Kay Young)
Louis Maskell as Strephon and Alan Richardson as Phyllis in IOLANTHE (photo by Kay Young)
So why would a fashionable girl about town (ha!) want to see a Gilbert & Sullivan play? Isn’t it all rum-pa-pa-pum and a bit posh and old fashioned? Lots of people, including myself, onlyknow Gilbert & Sullivan from badly acted school plays and village hall am dram. And let’s face it, it doesn’t exactly confront modern issues facing today’s society. Iolanthe is about fairies who love dancing in a ring and giggling and love, and the plight of a half-man-half-fairy trying to marry a human and coming up against the full force of a doddery old House of Lords. There is some relevance to now – it was all about Whigs and Tories then too – but the relevance of class struggle and title versus merit have largely fallen away. There is a lot of repetition and “fa-la-la-la” type dirges which seems a little old fasioned in our age of Anna Nicole Smith the musical, but as we went through I realised it was as beautiful and harmonious as some of the best operettas and operas I’ve been to. And, most men were shown as buffoons, being led blindly by strong, intelligent women (in this case, men playing women, keep up), so some things stay the same throughout the ages, ho ho.
Christopher Finn as Iolanthe in IOLANTHE (photo by Kay Young)
But I felt the modernity of the play even then. The cast (who did Pirates of Penzance last year) camped up the fairies gloriously to make it an incredibly funny, delightful play to watch, filled with fairy dust and mischief. And as well as being beautiful to look at, the fairies and Iolanthe and Phyllis had the most stunning soprano voices I may have ever heard. The bits with the House of Lords and the Chan-celll-oooohr were verging on the dull side for me, but drew laughs from the audience at the pomposity and hypocrisy of politicians. Oh yeah and that hasn’t changed too.
What DIY-hating pork-belly-loving chef may have done Gilbert & Sullivan at school? Form a queue, ladies
And while I was laughing out loud, I thought – why are the French known as the Kings of farce, with their Moliere and bulging bosoms? Us Brits do farce incredibly well and there were parts of Iolanthe that reminded me of our great British comic heroes – Monty Python, Spike Milligan, the Goons (which I didn’t find funny, but which my parents used to roar with laughter to), Fawlty Towers, Private Eye, Little Britain and my personal favourite, ‘Allo ‘Allo (“I was pissing by the door, when I heard two shats. You are holding in your hand a smoking goon; you are clearly the guilty potty” aha ha ha ha ha *falls over*) . I saw flashes of this sort of comedy all night at Iolanthe, this sort of camp, suggestive, norty comedy thats a little bit sexy and a little bit rude and very laugh out loud funny. So it does suit trendy Londoners about town, but your folks and your grandparents would also have a ball. Go see these wonderful men perform it for you and I’ll be looking out for what they come up with next year.
Luke Fredericks as Lord Mountararat, Alan Richardson as Phyllis and Matthew James Willis as Lord Tolloller in IOLANTHE (photo by Kay Young)
Iolanthe is on until 7 May and tickets are £23 from here. Wiltons does tours on Mondays and music evenings on Monday nights, I can’t recommend you go along enough. Did I tell you about the bunting already?!