Incompetence. Snobbery. Witless bureaucracy. Some things never go out of style.
While the obvious hilarity of fairies rubbing elbows with ineffective politicians doesn’t necessarily resonate with contemporary audiences the way it did in Victorian times, Gilbert & Sullivan (G&S) shows carry themes that still resonate today. G&S comedic operas have great fun with the idea of people who rise to power who are untrained and incompetent, and control everyone else. That’s a joke that never dies.
President Barbie Warwick of FVGSS – A Musical Theatre Company (Formerly the Fraser Valley Gilbert and Sullivan Society) believes in preserving the cultural history G&S brought to the world of theatre, despite the challenges: “One of the greatest struggles in mounting a Gilbert and Sullivan show in 2018 is the fact that the popularity has waned over the past few generations.” Warwick explains, “People who recognize the name G&S are either over 70 years old or ‘music geeks’. The majority of the population isn’t familiar with them. This is a shame because Gilbert and Sullivan were so ahead of their time and their shows are very relevant to today’s society. They push against cultural mores and they use their wit to take the establishment and politicians to task.”
FVGSS is a Surrey-based non-profit organization, committed to producing amateur shows to a professional standard, and keeping the Gilbert & Sullivan shows alive and relevant to today’s audiences. They produce Pantomimes each Holiday Season, and bring the topsy turvy world of G&S to the stage in the spring. Since 1982 many members of FVGSS return year-after-year to bring the works of G&S to life. Lyn Verra-Lay was a fairy in the society’s 1996 mount of Iolanthe, and will return behind the scenes as co-producer for the 2018 production.
Verra-Lay started as a musician with FVGSS in 1988, but moved to the stage by the end of that year. “The family atmosphere led to me to recruit my husband and children; they’ve been involved in many of the productions on and off-stage. I’m thrilled to still be involved 29 years later.” Verra-Lay’s daughter Elisabeth co-choreographed her first FVGSS pantomime in 2017, with Verra-Lay as a chorus member.
This season, FVGSS is producing Iolanthe, the fantasy tale that, bizarrely, brings together fairies and the House of Lords. Directed by Jacqollyne Keath, with music direction by John Arsenault and choreography by Tamara Jaune, love, treachery and death lie at the heart of the tale of Iolanthe. It tells the story of a fairy who fell in love with a mortal. Their son has fallen in love with a ward of the Lord Chancellor. Unfortunately, the path of true love rarely runs smoothly and fairy intervention in the House of Lords causes chaos, as it would.
FVGSS’s Iolanthe ran May 16 to 20 2018 at the Anvil Centre (777 Columbia Street) in New Westminster.