This all changed, however, when the powers that be decreed that I sit next to the Society’s former President on a flight from Amsterdam to Newcastle just days before the Society’s next show, and that I would spend the whole flight being introduced to the world of NUGSS.
After this insight, I found myself looking forward to NUGSS’ performance of Iolanthe, but I was still unsure what to expect as I sat down in the sophisticated surroundings of the theatre at the Royal Grammar School. The audience was varied; it was clearer that many friends and family of the performers were there supporting them, but NUGSS alumni were also out in full-force.
The Society accurately describes the plot of Iolanthe as a “wacky story of forbidden love, political reform, and fairies”. The comic opera revolves around the titular character, who has been banished from fairyland by the Fairy Queen after contravening fairy law by marrying a mortal. Her son Strephon is in love with Phyllis, a Ward of Chancery, who has also attracted the desires of all the members of the House of Peers. This leads to a confrontation between the fairies and the peers, with the latter being subject to great levels of satire. The operetta is whimsical, witty and wonderful.
Having never seen a Gilbert and Sullivan production before, I struggle to compare it, but I had a delightful evening watching Iolanthe. The cast, of approximately 20 students, impressed me with their seemingly ceaseless energy and their excellent renditions of the songs. Imogen Forsythe, in particular, shone through with her performance as Phyllis, having trained as a classical soprano for nine years, while Sophie Cooke dazzled the audience with her excellent command of the stage as the Fairy Queen. Many other cast members had also taken part in choirs and other branches of musical theatre and pantomime, and this experience was evident in their stunning performances. While the set was generally quite bare, this ensured that full attention was paid to the intricate details of the cast’s costumes, many details of which had been hand-crafted by a society member. The live orchestra greatly enhanced the performance, despite some of the members being recruited just days before the performance. The orchestra featured brass, wind, woodwind and percussion sections and provided almost continuous music during the two-hour performance.
Above all, I was incredibly impressed by the Society’s use of the Courier as a prop in one of scenes – some excellent publicity for us, and it absolutely dazzled on stage.