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Saturday 19th June

Shoestring Opera


Open air performance of Iolanthe by Gilbert and Sullivan. Shoestring Opera make a return visit to the Festival, directed by Diana Bickley. This will be an entertaining evening with a contemporary take on Gilbert’s lampooning of the aristocracy, politicians and the law.

In the case of inclement weather, the opera will take place inside a marquee in the gardens.


Gardens open 4pm.
Performance starts at 6pm.
20 minute interval. Approximate finish at 8.30pm.

Limekiln Farm
BN27 3TA
Directions to Laughton Primary School
IOLANTHE (or The Peer and the Peri)


This comic opera, with music by Sir Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W.S. Gilbert, is the seventh of the fourteen operettas on which the pair collaborated. It has the unusual accolade of celebrating three ‘firsts’ in the theatre world. Iolanthe’s well-received premiere was on November 25, 1882, at the Savoy Theatre, London, and was the first operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan to receive its premiere there. Another first for Iolanthe was that it was the first new production in the world to be lit by electricity, recently installed at the Savoy Theatre to replace the old-fashioned gas lighting. In this way Iolanthe benefitted from many hitherto unknown spectacular effects. The final historic first for this operetta was that it received its premiere in the US on the same night as in the UK. It subsequently ran at the Savoy for 398 performances, and has been in the repertory of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company almost continuously until 1982 (and beyond, the last G and S being The Mikado, co-produced with Scottish Opera in 2016), in the UK, the US and world-wide.

Despite its Victorian origins, many aspects of Iolanthe are as relevant today as they ever were. Gilbert’s libretti are known for their lampooning of the aristocracy, political figures and the law. In Iolanthe the peers of the House Lords were presented as dim-witted, and other political parties get their share of satire. Nevertheless, Gladstone, who was prime minister at the time of its premiere, complimented the opera’s good taste. Later, however, he did refuse to allow quotations from the libretto to be used as part of a campaign to diminish the power of the House of Lords!

Shoestring Opera is looking forward to producing Iolanthe in the manner to which it has been accustomed, with it a healthy dose of appropriate updating – particularly given the current political situation - while always retaining the integrity of the original!

Diana Bickley (MD Shoestring Opera)

Tom Mullins
Victoria Sharp
Iolanthe chorus
Yvette Cummings
Aino Konkka

The Shoestring Opera


The founder of this ad hoc company is Claire Evans, who has spent much of her life gathering singers and players together to perform operas (at least ten different ones), in any number of enchanting, but often unexpected places. I first got to know Claire and her team when the company took Così fan tutte to a village near Orvieto in Umbria in 2006; that was followed by La Cenerentola in 2008. Claire then retired from running the company, although there was a reprise of Così in Anghiari in 2011.


Cenerentola and Iolanthe have the same number of principals each, but in Iolanthe the chorus plays a more significant role than that used in our production of Cenerentola. Therefore it requires more people, all of whom I am very pleased to welcome to the Shoestring team, with our thanks to them for their committed involvement as well as their sense of fun. Finally, it is with grateful thanks that I introduce Sharon Gerry, who has taken on the role of Wardrobe Mistress (and thus taken a great weight off my mind); and our Directorial and Production team headed by David Phillips, most ably aided and abetted by Yvette Cummings and Tom Mullins.


It is a great pleasure for me that two of that original Shoestring team are singing in our production of Iolanthe this year: Jonathon Willson and Giles Dawson. For those of you who saw our Cenerentola in 2018, you may notice that Peter Brown’s name is no longer alongside them. It is with much sadness that I record his passing in Nov 2019. Our performance of Iolanthe this year will be dedicated to our memories of him in many roles and -- most of all -- to the lovely man that he was. Jonathon and Giles, along with Lesley Brown and Belinda Willson, continue to help so much in so many ways to maintain the Shoestring atmosphere and ethos during the preparations for this performance. The current Shoestring group is also greatly indebted to Claire herself (the original Shoestring Clorinda in Cenerentola), for being happy that we take the name ‘Shoestring Opera’, which encapsulates her example of energy, focus and enthusiasm permeating our rehearsals and preparation for the performance this year.

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