Review: “Iolanthe” at Morpheus Theatre

Vicki Trask

  • Calgary Critic

I am so glad I got to attend Morpheus Theatre’s finale production of the season. This community theatre company is well known for their annual Gilbert and Sullivan and this year’s presentation of, “Iolanthe” was no exception. The Victor Mitchell Theatre was transformed into Victorian London as Fairies and Mortals meet and fall in love. Specifically, this two hour operetta is about the half-fairy Stephon who, with his mother Iolanthe’s permission, seeks to marry his lady love Phyllis; except the young lady is sought after by every man in congress including the man who must approve of their marriage, The Lord Chancellor. Directed by Kelly Reay, with musical direction by Carey Unger and accompaniment by Mike Jarzecki, this two act comedy is the kind of magical theatre I’ve come to expect from Morpheus Theatre.

Let’s start with Karen Iwanski’s choreography. The steps that she chose made sense with the music but often times, I felt like she had included movement for the sake of movement and it took away from the story. I think less would have been more in this case. Particularly with the Fairies. The one thing I have to say to these women is: support. All of the music is high and happened to involve nearly constant movement so without vocal support, I had a difficult time understanding their words. And their faces often didn’t reflect the words they were singing. Everyone has “think face” but it kept me from understanding the story.

I thought Christine Johnson’s costume designs were gorgeous. The men looked well put together and I loved the colours on the fairies. I especially liked that each dress was unique – in particular, I loved the Queen of the Fairies’ dress (I want one for myself) – but some dresses fit better than others despite being made for the individual. I’m not sure if it was the fabric or the cut but it was inconsistent for me.

Our title character Iolanthe, played by Ginette Simonot was perfectly suited for her nurturing role and she displayed an heir of grace while still playing a down-to-earth character – for a comedic operetta. What I did get to see of Ginette I really enjoyed. The same can be said of the two lovers Phyllis and Stephon, played by Winnifred Hume and Janos Zeller respectively. I feel so conflicted about these two. While Winnifred was perfectly demure and open, she didn’t match the high energy – sometimes over the top – performance by Janos. I didn’t feel a connection between the two at all. Both gave great individual performances but not as a pair.

The Lords in the cast gave some of my favourite performances of the night. First, the Lord Chancellor, played by Steve Hansen Smythe, gave an excellent performance. I really enjoyed the comedic conflict he faced and I thought he could have taken it even further in physicalizing his struggle. Kyle Gould’s portrayal of Lord Tolloller was so entertaining. I loved watching him. His facial expressions were distinct and in character but never distracting. His voice was solid and clear. I knew that I could always look to him and be entertained. All of the Lords were vocally strong but their personalities were not matched. For the most part they maintained a very stoic posture but they were not in sync when it came time to sob or cheer or any other emotional change.

I think there were a lot of really good individual performances but as an ensemble, they weren’t together. However, I left the theatre on a positive note; I enjoyed my time at the Pumphouse Theatre and I think you will, too.


Vicki has been working on and off stage for multiple theatre companies in her area since 2011.  You can keep up with her antics on twitter @vatrask.