Does Gilbert and Sullivan need updating for our changed times? Cal McCrystal explains why his joyful new Iolanthe contains not a single lecherous peer but plenty of feisty fairies
I’ve never been a fan of the theatre laugh – the polite one audiences do when they know there’s a funny bit they should acknowledge. What I go for is the genuine belly laugh – the sort you can’t control that leaves you banging your head on the seat in front. When English National Opera invited me to direct a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, I knew I wanted a production that was silly, joyful and – despite their association with Victoriana – still relevant.
I was only familiar with one or two of G&S’s operettas, so I set about reading and listening to all of them during a summer in Bagnols-en-Forêt. Perhaps it was the southern French countryside that put the idea of a fairy glade in my mind, but Iolanthe leapt out at me. I think it appealed to my sense of humour. It tells the story of Strephon, the son of a fairy, who is in love with Phyllis, a ward of court. Unfortunately, the Lord Chancellor and the entire House of Lords also have their eyes on Phyllis.