top of page
Gilbert & Sullivan's - 'Iolanthe'

Arts Theatre, UNE - June 1997

Stage Direction by Michael Gibson
Musical Direction by Bruce Menzies
Produced by Donna Wainohu
Choreography by Adele Brownlow

Music by Arthur Sullivan. Orchestration by Peter Murray. Lyrics and libretto by William S. Gilbert. By arrangement with Warner/Chappell Music.


Act 1

In a peaceful glade beside a peaceful river, in a land of simple beauties, the fairies dance and sing without a care. Nobody knows why they do it, but what does that matter? It is for the pleasure of having no purpose. What do fairies live on? Lovers. That’s all the nourishment they need.

We can ride on lover’s sighs,
Warm ourselves in lover’s eyes,
Bathe ourselves in lover’s tears,
Clothe ourselves in lover’s fears.

All seems very delicate and perfect. But it isn’t, not without their sister Iolanthe. Their revels are now more work than pleasure. Iolanthe was the spark of every happiness. For twenty-five mortal years she has been absent, banished by the Fairy Queen for having married a mortal.

By law – that is fairy law – she should have died for this. But the Queen commuted her sentence to penal servitude for life on condition that she should immediately cease all communication with her husband without explanation. The condemned fairy chose to work out her term in the most uncomfortable, chilly damp place she could find: the bottom of the nearby stream. This is unnerving to the delicate nature of the Queen – the frogs! think of the frogs!

The fairies, one and all, want Iolanthe back. Surely her punishment has been severe enough! The Queen, too, misses her terribly and grants the reprieve that all desire. The fairies call upon Iolanthe to return to the upper world.

From thy dark exile thou art summoned!
Come to our call – 
Come Iolanthe!

Like a Rhine Maiden she rises from the placid river. Her dress is tattered and grey, her aspect humble. She is pleasantly surprised to hear the Queen grant her pardon. Her water weeds fall away and she stands glittering with the beauty of the most beautiful of fairies, her diamond coronet returned to her head. She is received once again into the company of the partly blessed.

There is, however, a question in the Queen’s mind. Why had Iolanthe chosen to work out her sentence in the bottom of that river? The answer is shockingly simple – to be near her son, born shortly after she left her husband and now twenty-five years old. He is an Arcadian shepherd in love with Phyllis, one of the Wards in Chancery. Since his father was a mortal, only his top half is fairy. From the waist down he’s human.

Strephon, half and half, comes in, playing upon his flageolet and singing,

For I’m to be married today.

Not that the Lord Chancellor had agreed to it, but Strephon will not wait any longer. Being half a fairy has caused him certain embarrassments in the human world. His lower half isn’t half as useful as his upper. What will his upper half, which shall never grow old, do when his lower half withers? No one has an answer for that.

The Queen believes that this lad is plainly fit for intellectual work – say in Parliament. This is an idea worth considering carefully; the fairies leave Strephon to his thoughts.

Phyllis is worried about the Lord Chancellor’s negative reaction to the proposed marriage. Neither of the two young lovers can imagine putting it off until she becomes of age two years hence.

None shall part us from each other;
One in life and death are we:
All in all to one another –
I to thee and thou to me!

To discuss the question of a suitable husband for Phyllis, whom each of them loves, the House of Lords assembles in executive session. The meeting opens ceremonially:

Bow, ye lower middle classes!
Bow, ye tradesmen, bow, ye masses!
Blow the trumpets, band the brasses!
Tantantara! Tzing! Boom!

Then there is an introductory speech by the Lord Chancellor:

The law is the true embodiment
Of everything that’s excellent;
It has no kind of fault or flaw;
And I, my Lords, embody the law.

He is forced to admit that he himself is highly susceptible to the charms of the young ladies who are wards of the court – especially those of Phyllis, whom he would like to marry. But being her guardian, he cannot objectively consider his own suit; whether he can give himself his own consent puzzles him. A most painful position! He waives his claim.

The girl has been summoned to appear before the House and now is ushered in.

Oh, rapture, how beautiful!
How gentle – how dutiful!

The Lords Tolloller and Mountararat love her madly. Tolloller; she does not want a Lord at all. To this the noble gentleman feels compelled to reply with some formality.

Spurn not the nobly born
With love affected,
Nor treat with virtuous scorn
The well-connected.

But nothing will sway the maid. Her heart is already given to a mere shepherd. Indeed, she means to be married this very day. At this unfortunate moment Strephon appears, to put his claim before the Lord Chancellor. The Peer takes the boy aside for a well-deserved tongue-lashing. Strephon attempts to conquer logic with the depth of this emotions, but the Lord is unmoved. He tells Strephon what it means to be called to the Bar, what constitutes legal evidence and truth. Strephon is duly impressed – and depressed. In this sad condition his fairy mother Iolanthe finds him after he has left the august House. She promised him the help of all the fairies against the peers.

Phyllis witnessed the affectionate meeting between her twenty-five-year-old lover and what appears to be an exceedingly pretty girl of only seventeen. This absurd explanation he offers – that the sweet thing is really his mother – brings a perfectly logical reaction from Phyllis, and the Lords who also saw them. Phyllis is deeply hurt. Without hesitation she turns and gives her promise that she will marry either Lord Tolloller or Lord Mountararat – little does she care which. The choice is up to them. Now the fairies intervene, but their appearance only confirms the suspicion of all the Lords that Strephon is dallying with a seventeen-year-old girl while formally paying court to their ward. Finally the Fairy Queen herself speaks on behalf of the boy, but it takes a serious threat to accomplish anything. She tells the gentlemen who she is, and forthwith appoints Strephon a member of Parliament.

Every bill and every measure
That may gratify his pleasure,
Though your fury it arouses
Shall be passed by both your Houses.

The battle lines are drawn. The peers and the fairies make themselves ready for a war to the finish.

Act 2

Before the entrance to Parliament stands Private Willis, on guard, unaware of what is about to happen. He is a contemplative man, made so perhaps, by this nocturnal employment as a sentry. Parliaments have sat and risen time and again, but the parties seem to last forever.

I often think it’s comical – Fal, lal, la!
How Nature always does contrive – Fal, lal, la!
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative!
Fal, lal, la!

And he muses, in the peace and quiet of a dimly moonlit London night. But the old order of life has been changed, whether Private Willis likes it or not, for, as peers and fairies now enter to sing.

Strephon’s a Member of Parliament,
Carries every bill he chooses.
To his measures all assent -
Showing that fairies have their uses.

One of Strephon’s bills, one which must have been most galling, throws the peerage open for the first time in history to competitive examination. The implications of this are almost too horrible to contemplate.

MOUNTARARAT: … but with a House of Peers composed exclusively of people of intellect, what’s to become of the House of Commons?
LEILA: I never thought of that!

The good Earl has put his finger on just one of the many results to be expected when a woman (the Fairy Queen) interferes with politics. He is amazed that a House with such a glorious history can be so rudely converted into something unmentionable.

When Britain really ruled the waves -
(In good Queens Bess’s time)
The House of Peers made no pretence
To intellectual eminence,
Or scholarship sublime;
Yes Britain won her proudest bays
In good Queen Bess’s glorious days!The two most forward of the fairies, Leila and Celia, are utterly charmed by the vigour and stateliness of this noble man. Each yearns to have a Peer for herself. When the Fairy Queen hears this, she reminds them that marriage with a mortal is punishable by death. But even as she argues, she becomes so conscious of the attractions of the ever-present Private Willis that she hardly knows which way to turn. 

While the fate of fairydom dangles over this new precipice, Phyllis faces her own problem. She is now engaged, against her better judgement, to both Lord Tolloller and Lord Mountararat because of Strephon’s seeming duplicity. But all in all, she does not think much of the Peerage per se.

The two Lords engaged to Phyllis have to choose between them which one will actually have her. They try; they discuss the possibility of fighting over her; but at last friendship prevails – it would not be right for old friends to dispatch one another. But these two are not the only ones in despair. 

The Lord Chancellor is miserable. He has been having nightmares and must sing them out in every detail. He cannot rid himself of his desire for Phyllis, who is his own ward and therefore unavailable.

At last Strephon leaves the legislative hall, the object of all eyes, the envy of every impotent Lord. He has passed every bill he wanted and is pausing only to think of more. When he sees Phyllis, his manner is restrained; he knows she is engaged to two of his fellow-members. But in conversation, the girl finally realises that the seventeen-year-old beauty she saw him with, who he claimed was his mother, really is his mother. Being a fairy she has not aged beyond that age which is the most attractive. And her son is half fairy. The poor girl’s eyes are thus forced open. They decide – again – to marry immediately before something else gets in the way.

Iolanthe enters, to greet her prospective daughter-in-law, and meets the Lord Chancellor. Their secret is now revealed: he was her mortal husband, Strephon’s father. At this moment, the Fairy Queen makes her appearance. By meeting her husband once again, Iolanthe has a second time broken the fairies’ law and must be punished, this time with death! But now each fairy is in love with a mortal Peer. Even the Fairy Queen loves Private Willis. What can be done? The Lord Chancellor – an old Equity draftsman – saves the day with the suggestion that the fairy law against marriage with mortals be amended by the alteration of the crucial sentence, so that it will now read that fairies must marry mortals. There are no nays; the ayes have it and the law is put into effect. All the Peers are delighted, and in a magical moment wings sprout on their backs as they each take a fairy’s hand. Even Private Willis becomes a fairy.

Up in the sky
Ever so high,
Pleasures come in endless series;
We will arrange
Happy exchange -
House of Peers for House of Peris!


Like many Australians “baby boomers” I received very strong exposure to ‘all things British’ when I was growing up. One of the most pleasant memories of that period was the annual Gilbert & Sullivan operetta performed at the local high school. 

Recent revivals of “Pirates”, “Mikado” and “Pinafore” have revealed that a good many people similarly share those fond memories and hence the Armidale Musical Society agreed to my suggestion that we stage “Iolanthe”.

Why Iolanthe? Well apart from the fact that it’s a family favourite, the plot is so utterly ridiculous that it appeals to my sense of humour. The British House of Peers turning into a bunch of fairies and flying off to Fairyland!!! Imagine the delight that this notion must have been received with by anyone of Celtic origin. Even in the 1990s the changing nuances of our language add to the humour of Gilbert’s dialogue, and what voter cannot help but agree with Pvt. Willis’ opinions on politicians

“When in that House MP’s divide, it they’ve a brain and cerebellum too. They have to leave that brain outside and vote just as their leaders tell ‘em to.”

It has been fun bringing Iolanthe to the stage, and many people have worked hard to get it here – thank you everyone for your efforts. I would like to thank Armidale High School for its generosity and in particular, I would also like to thank Bruce Menzies, Robyn Bradley, Ngaire Lewis, Barbara Colledge and Donna Wainohu for their patience, persistence and faith in our ability to get this show up and running.

We hope that you the audience enjoy the product of our combined efforts.


Strephon: Neil Horton, Phyllis: Frances Tafra, Queen of the Fairies: Cheryl Landers, Lord Chancellor: Jim Graham, Earl of Mountararat: David Gee, Earl Tolloller: Michael Gibson, Celia: Shannon Ashley, Leila: Allyson Hecker, Private Willis: Doug Rumble, Fleta: Lisa McGrath-Burford, Iolanthe: Mel Robertson

Peris: Alana Hennessy, Aline Christenson, Barbara Colledge, Beryl Hamel, Claire Vicars, Diana Drews, Erin Muldoon, Evelyn Atfield, Isabel Muldoon, Jean Waugh, Katrina Pring, Peta Bale, Rachel Menzies, Rebecca Myhill, Ros Brady, Sharyn Holmes, Wendie Hudson

Peers: Alec Watt, Andrew Swann, Brian Thomas, David Toppin, David White, David Young, Dwayne Kennedy, Gordon Lee, Jerry DeGabriel, Jim Landers, John Hadfield, Kel Hardingham, Mark Arnold, Matthew Atfiled, Robert Tumeth


Conductor: Bruce Menzies, Violin 1: Joanne Metcalfe, Hugh Driscoll, Emma Chapman, Violin 2: Paddy Lawson, Liz Henderson, Janelle Gulliver, Viola: Naomi Edwardson, Laurie Pulley, Cello: Sue Metcalfe, Isobel Ellis, Bass: Wendy Griffiths, Flute: Sharon Davidge, Oboe: Judy Kelly, Clarinet: Anna Bailey, Trumpet: Wayne Elliot, Horn: Kerry Hawkins, Trombone: Ossie Jellyman, Timpani/Percussion: Michael Harris


Producer : Donna Wainohu
Director: Michael Gibson
Musical Director: Bruce Menzies
Costume Design: Ngaire Lewis
Costume Assistants: Aline Christensen, Barbara Colledge, Dorothy Pollard
Choreography: Adele Brownlow, Donna Wainohu
Stage Manager: Barbara Colledge
Assistant Stage Manager: Margaret Kennedy
Repetitur: Robyn Bradley
Set & Lighting Design: Timothy Clark
Lighting Operator: Bryce Little
Sound: Lolly Krzyszkowiak
Make-up: Di Arnold, Donna Wainohu, Leslie Bruce
Set Construction: Timothy Clark
Properties: Leslie Bruce
Prompt: Amanda Brownlow
Stage Crew: Alan Bruce, Cameron Bruce, Stephen Watt
Program Design: Bryce Little, Lolly Krzyszkowiak
Poster Design: Bryce Little
Front of House: Debbie Towner
Ticketing: Margaret Kennedy
Publicity: Lolly Krzyszkowiak
Autumn Festival: Barbara Colledge, Dorothy Pollard, Ngaire Lewis
Gala Night: Bruce Menzies, Cheryl Landers, Donna Wainohu


Alan & Roberta Cahill for the loan of a wheelchair, Anne Wilkinson of Prime television, Armidale High School for rehearsal venue and program printing, Armidale Playhouse for use of grounds to decorate Autumn festival float, Betty & John DeVeau of Armidale Arts Supplies, Bryce’s automatic bread-maker, Carol McGiveron of 2ARM FM, Catherine Mabbott of 2AD, Cheryl Landers for Nutri Metrics raffle prize, Fabric Fair for material for Fairy Queen’s costume, Pat Urbonas of Sydney Dry Cleaners for Autumn Festival float materials and raffle prize, Rosemary Mort at The Independent, The Armidale Express, Thom’s Retravision for raffle prizes, Tim Clark and staff at the UNE Arts Theatre, Wayne McFayden for loan of truck for the Autumn festival float.

Iolanthe artwork courtesy of Lolly Krzyszkowiak

bottom of page