North Shore's genderbent panto Iolanthe Jonathan Gagné and Sevan Kochkarian share a romantic moment as Strephon and Phyllis in Iolanthe. Photo by Diamond's Edge Photography.

North Shore's genderbent panto Iolanthe

Melissa Ratcliff

North Shore Light Opera Society is a community theatre organization in North Vancouver that prides itself on its longevity in the local area, and produces primarily Gilbert and Sullivan, or other light operas in the English language.

This production of Iolanthe, under the direction of up-and-coming stage director Robin Hahn, is a refreshing departure from the ‘prim British Aristocrats meet dainty fairies’ that you would expect. Instead, this production has drag fairy queens, gender-bent high chancellors and lords, queer romance, and fairy selfies.

Mikey Enriquez as the Fairy Queen in the North Shore Light Opera Society's production of Iolanthe.

Many of the roles in this production were gender-bent, which made for so many interesting relationships between two female peers, or a female Iolanthe and a female Lord Chancellor, among others, and was a refreshing take on a genre that can often be far too anchored in dated Victorian sensibilities.

The lead roles of Strephon and Phyllis, the dewy-eyed couple whose marriage is interrupted, are played by tenor Jonathan Gagné and soprano Sevan Kochkarian. Gagné plays Strephon as a typical rustic, innocent youth, but hilariously pouty and angry when things don’t go his way, storming off stage in a huff. Vocally Gagné was a powerhouse, a huge tenor that was tastefully restrained for the light opera with effortless ease. Kochkarian as Phyllis equally had her huffy moments, and floated carefree under the peers’ fawning attention. A brilliant soprano voice full of beautiful colour - the duets between the two were highlights of the show, and their love for each other was tender and sincere.

Iolanthe, played by Dinah Ayre, emerges from a swamp in Act I of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe.

Moriah Wax as the Lord Chancellor brought the house down with so many amazing comic moments from physical to situational comedy, blistering patter, and embodying the self-importance of the peer with the perfect balance of pomposity and a child-like innocence. Vocally challenged by singing a baritone role, her rich, colourful mezzo-soprano was soaring and captivating throughout.

Other kudos to Dinah Ayre as Iolanthe and Mikey Enriquez as the Fairy Queen who were charming and hilarious in turn. Ayre as Iolanthe was subdued and gentle, bringing a maternal kindness and warm mezzo-soprano to the role of the immortal mother that belied her very young age. Enriquez as the Fairy (Drag) Queen was so over-the-top constantly, that his scenes were a joy every time he entered.

The ensembles were charming and cute, though sometimes felt vocally under-rehearsed. The timing in G&S can be tricky and fast, and sometimes it just didn’t fall into place. The acting had some lovely moments of slapstick and physical comedy, though it would have been great to have more commitment to the zaniness that was happening on stage.

Mezzo-soprano Moriah Wax sings the Chancellor's entrance aria, 'The Law is the true embodiment', in the North Shore Light Opera Society's production of Iolanthe.

In addition to the over-the-top farce happening on stage, there were some very tender moments as well. In the finale when Iolanthe and the Lord Chancellor finally reunite, Wax and Ayre brought such gentle sensitivity to the moment that it was tear-jerking and captivating.

The small band, under the direction of Edette Gagne had some technical difficulties - two digital instruments were patched into the house PA, but no other instruments were mic’d, which created a jarring delay for audience members between the analog and digital instruments, and ensembles were frequently out of sync with the singers, or had to be restarted altogether.

It was also quite difficult to get any details about this production, as there is no information about the cast, theatre address, or any details about the production on the organization’s website, or any of their social media, and the 3rd party box office has very little information, which might explain the small audience numbers.

Iolanthe plays at the Presentation House until May 27th.

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