Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



Aaron Hunt: Barri Soreil has disagreed with my dismissal of the Lord Chancellor as an unfeeling sot, and perhaps Barri has a point, given some of the feedback that I have received.

I may have suffered from exposure to LCs that simply "played" self-serving with a bit of letch in the direction of Phyllis thrown in for good measure.

I still feel, however, that LC isn't exactly pining for Iolanthe, nor is he interested in Phyllis as a person, or I think that his intention to marry her might have been made public earlier than this point.

But then, I have not had the opportunity to see John Shea or Henry Odum in this role, both so adept at subtext and so completely in tune with the style of these roles, I feel certain that either could turn me around...

Robert Jones: Aaron Hunt wrote: "I still feel, however, that LC isn't exactly pining for Iolanthe,"

He's not likely to still be in open mourning after 24 years, is he? Tom Shepard: I think it would be unhealthy for a man to keep pining for a woman he believes died twenty-four years ago. The LC is ready to move on with his life; when he learns that Iolanthe lives (liveth), he says no more about Phyllis.

Robert Jones: Aaron Hunt wrote: "nor is he interested in Phyllis as a person, or I think that his intention to marry her might have been made public earlier than this point."

He's somewhat capricious, as WSG's judges are wont to be. There's quite a parallel between the LC and Trial's judge at this point. Each has a nightmare of some sort, each throws up his hands and says, "I'll marry her myself!" Of course, the LC could show outward signs of his interest in Phyllis, which would prepare us for his decision. And I certainly don't think it should be done with a leer!

J. Derrick McClure: Didn't Will Shakespeare (a glover's son, born in Stratford, who wrote quite a lot of pretty good plays and poems) write a play about a man who mourned his wife for years and eventually found that she was still alive? I wouldn't push the comparison too far, of course; but just as the ending of THE WINTER'S TALE is the moment in the whole canon with the most cast-iron guarantee of bringing tears to the eyes of anybody not made of solid bone, so the Lord Chancellor's "Iolanthe! Thou livest?" is, or can be, the most heart-touching dramatic moment in all G'n'S. Of course the reason why he has never married again is that he still cherishes the memory of his long-dead bride - and it's not reading too much into the part to guess that it's not only legal difficulties that make him reluctant to award Phyllis to himself. In this whole scene, Gilbert is sounding far deeper emotional notes than he usually does, and Sullivan supports him admirably.

Ed Glazier "Officer Ed": Having fearlessly weighed in on every other OOTW, I thought I'd express a few thoughts about IOLANTHE. I've done the show 3 times, once in the Peer's chorus at the University of Michigan, and twice as the Lord Chancellor with the Stanford Savoyards. I quite enjoy the role, though I admit the 3 solos may be a bit much.

I have been surprised by those who have categorized the LC as the villain of the piece, and I side with those who consider there is no character who is the villain, but only the law and the situations. I think there is sufficient evidence in the text that the LC IS really attracted to Phyllis. Witness this, in his very first speech:

It would be idle to deny that I, myself, have the misfortune to be singularly attracted by this young person. My regard for her is rapidly undermining my constitution. Three months ago I was a stout man. I need say no more. If I could reconcile it with my duty, I should unhesitatingly award her to myself, for I can conscientiously say that I know no man who is so well fitted to render her exceptionally happy. (Peers: Hear, hear!) But such an award would be open to misconstruction, and therefore, at whatever personal inconvenience, I waive my claim.

When he finally agrees in Act II to award her to himself, it is only after a very difficult ethical struggle and an appeal to the sympathy of the authority presiding in the case. Although he himself is the authority, I believe and attempted to play the role with the utmost sincerity, that he was trying to judge the case on its objective merits and that he consistently felt the pain of trying to act "in two capacities". After all, this is one of the manifestations of Gilbertian topsy-turvy in this show. I attempted to play the "Victory!" scene with no cynical subtext. After all, even Phyllis does not think he's a bad person; it's only her love for Strephon that takes her to the unprecedented step of defying her guardian.

As for the LC's love for Iolanthe, again, I felt this was ever present in his memory. (Perhaps the young Phyllis resembles the Iolanthe of his memory and that's why he is so strongly attracted to her.) Taking my cue from Iolanthe's lament in Act II ("her little dainty gloves"), I carried with me a souvenir of Iolanthe, which I would take out and fondle at various times. My first LC used a multi-colored silk handkerchief - my idea being that such an item would obviously NOT be his own hanky - which was then used most extensively during Iolanthe's song. My second LC used a little gold trinket of some sort. I think perhaps it was a small picture frame. Others may quibble at these physical manifestations of his thoughts, but I felt they were legitimate ways to humanize the character and to give his memories of Iolanthe an overt presence that the dialogue does not.

As for the recit and song "He Loves!", I had the good fortune to work with an outstanding Iolanthe, Susan Squires, in my first essay at the role. Her rendition of the number moved me to real tears at every rehearsal and most performances. I know it is unprofessional to actually weep on stage, but, alas, I do not have the actor's tools to dissemble here and had to deliver "It may not be" and "Iolanthe! Thou livest!" in spite of myself. (Footnote: I shamelessly admit that I feel the same way about "Oh, thoughtless crew" at the end of YEOMEN and found myself weeping at all rehearsals and performances when I played Point.) Actually, I judge the success of the ending of every IOLANTHE I see by how close this scene comes to moving me to tears. (Ditto, YEOMEN).

Anyway, I find the Lord Chancellor to be a kindly, old gentleman. His disapproval of Strephon's suit is a blind spot, but motivated by his belief that a shepherd would not be the best husband for his ward, and, of course, his own sincere belief that he himself would be.

My first time as LC I had a hideous time with "When I Went to the Bar". The non-director gave me nothing in particular to do with the song. Strephon sat like a bump on a log (well, it was more like a bump on a stump) and I was just supposed to stand there and sing. There was no differentiation in the "staging" among the 4 verses, except the 3rd verse ended with a false exit, and then a return to sing verse 4. At the final performance, I sang the first verse as usual, but when the time came for me to sing verse 2, I had no idea of the words. It was the first time I had ever dried up on stage and I had no idea what to do. The conductor for this production had what I considered the irritating habit of mouthing the words during all solos. However, at this moment, when I needed the words, his mouth was as motionless in dismay as mine probably was! According to the video (wouldn't you know this dire moment was preserved on videotape!), I sang "selections" from the 2nd verse, all the time thinking that I would remember where I was at any moment, and surely by the 3rd verse. Well, the 3rd verse began, and I was still in the dark, and sang a few words here and there. Finally, the false exit at the end of the verse jarred me sufficiently to remember the 4th verse, which I sang and then beat a hasty retreat.

My memory of the whole ghastly episode was that the cold icy hand of fear gripped my spine during the number and for the rest of the performance. Although I had sung the Nightmare Song for years in concerts without a miss, and had done so through the previous performances in this run, I went through the words 3 times at intermission, for fear I would freeze again, which mercifully, I did not. The feeling was so horrendous that I decided then and there that if I should ever feel that way again on stage, I would give it up for good. Fortunately for me, I have not had the same experience again, knock wood. I did not audition for the next Savoyard IOLANTHE, but when the one after that came up, I decided to go for it again, perhaps to prove to myself that I could get through it without the same terror. When it came time to stage "When I went to the bar", I made it clear to the director that there had to be some staging for this number and that the staging for each verse had to be sufficiently different for me to have a handle to tie the words to. I was pleased to be able to get through the entire run without any disasters, and have returned to the stage a number of times since then.

I thought I'd also mention a bit about the staging of "If You Go In". In my second time as LC, the director (Raf Ornes) had worked out a staging for this number which included, somewhere toward the end, the 3 of us with hands clasped in a circle. Through complex maneuvering (which I was never able to duplicate, but which is on the videotape), we managed to get ourselves into a pretzel-like configuration, with hands still clasped. I guess you had to be there to see it, but it impressed the audiences regularly. The first time we did it at rehearsal, the director gave us elaborate instructions and when we had completed the maneuver successfully, he was delighted, because he told us that he had worked this out only in his head and wasn't sure whether it could actually be done by real people! It was great fun, though.

Robert Jones: And what a marvellous collection of thoughts, Officer Ed. I started to cry as I read of your LC's attachments to Iolanthe. It really is a wonderful opera.

Updated 28 November 1997