Cal McCrystal directs a joyful new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s hilarious satirical fantasy, Iolanthe.

16th February 2018 in Press

Arthur Sullivan (1842 – 1900)
Libretto, William Schwenck Gilbert (1836 – 1911)

Conductor, Timothy Henty
Director, Cal McCrystal

 Cal McCrystal directs a joyful new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s hilarious satirical fantasy, Iolanthe.

 Opens Tuesday 13 February at 7.30pm at the London Coliseum (14 performances)

Acclaimed comedy director Cal McCrystal – the mastermind behind some of the most celebrated comic scenes in theatre (One Man, Two Guvnors) and film (Paddington, Paddington 2, The Dictator and The World’s End) – makes his ENO debut with a new production of Iolanthe. Gilbert and Sullivan’s hilarious satire on British government, law and society features a stellar cast, including comedy legend Andrew Shore, who has performed some of ENO’s most memorable roles. ENO Harewood Artists Samantha Price sings in the title role and Barnaby Rea performs as Private Willis.

 The first Gilbert and Sullivan opera that ENO performed in January 1962 (on the day on which the D’Oyly Carte monopoly ended) – Iolanthe is a brilliantly funny, satirical fantasy, revealing a typically Gilbert and Sullivan topsy-turvy worldview. Phyllis and Strephon wish to marry, but as she is a ward of court she requires the Lord Chancellor’s permission. He, however, wants her for himself. With madcap fairies in the Palace of Westminster and honourable members of The Lords in Arcadia, when Strephon turns out to be the son of The Lord Chancellor and the exiled fairy Iolanthe, all is cast into confusion. Iolanthe is a joyful show featuring flying fairies, quarrelsome lords, an ensemble of quirky characters and even stand-up comedy. This brand new production marries opera with theatre and comedy like never before.

Following the huge success of Mike Leigh’s The Pirates of Penzance (which broke ENO box office records upon its premiere in 2015) and the enduring popularity of Jonathan Miller’s The Mikado (a true audience favourite that has been revived 13 times in 28 years), ENO has become the foremost exponent of imaginative, witty stagings of these timeless British classics. Cal McCrystal’s new production of Iolanthe, with Gilbert and Sullivan expert Timothy Henty leading the ENO Orchestra, looks set to further bolster ENO’s reputation as the premier home for the works of this great comic pairing.

ENO’s international reputation for working with exciting directors from across a wide range of artistic disciplines has offered a fresh perspective and unique approach. Cal McCrystal is the latest artistic talent to apply his skills to the world of opera. Previous directors ENO has worked with include Mike Leigh, Terry Gilliam, Anthony Minghella, Rufus Norris, Carrie Cracknell and Fiona Shaw.

McCrystal comments:

‘I am thrilled to be working with ENO for the first time. W.S. Gilbert’s libretto is as funny to this day as it was when it first premiered in 1882, and it has been a delight working with such a talented team in bringing the production to life. I want this to be an accessible, joyful show that joins ENO’s celebrated canon of contemporary Gilbert and Sullivan productions.’

Director Cal McCrystal is famed for his work in comedy, theatre and film. Having trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and with the legendary Parisian clown Philippe Gaulier, his early work as a director includes the live shows of The Mighty Boosh and Cambridge Footlights (with an ensemble that included John Oliver and Richard Ayoade). He has directed comedy routines for Cirque du Soleil, and has frequently collaborated with the celebrated British clown company Spymonkey. In 2011 Sir Nicholas Hytner invited him to join the Royal National Theatre as Physical Comedy Director on One Man, Two Guvnors, a monumental hit that enjoyed hugely successful runs in the West End and on Broadway. His work in film as a Comedy Consultant includes some of the best-loved British comedy films of the last five years; Paddington and Paddington 2The World’s End and The Dictator. He directed his first opera, Life on the Moon, in 2014 with ETO. Since 2012 Cal has been director of Giffords Circus.

Paul Brown, the hugely influential figure in stage design celebrated for his work in opera and theatre, sadly passed away last year. Paul designed the sets for some ENO’s most striking and beautiful productions, most recently Jonathan Kent’s The Flying Dutchman in 2012 and A Child of our Time in 2005. Paul had been working with ENO and Cal McCrystal on Iolanthe and his wonderful designs feature throughout the production. The first night performance of Iolanthe is dedicated to his memory.

Lighting Designer Tim Mitchell has worked on a diverse array of productions worldwide, from opera and large scale musical theatre to drama, ballet, television and site specific productions. He is an Associate Artist at the Royal Shakespeare Company and from 2009-2016 was part of the successful artistic team at Chichester Festival Theatre.

Lizzi Gee is one of the West End’s leading choreographers. She has worked with many of the UK’s leading theatres, including National Theatre, The Old Vic, Chichester Festival Theatre and RSC. She was the Choreographer on Matthew Warchus’ BAFTA Award-winning film Pride, which starred Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Dominic West.

English baritone and ENO legend Andrew Shore follows his much-loved Major-General (The Pirates of Penzance) with the role of The Lord Chancellor. Shore has been performing with ENO for decades and has featured in more than thirty-five ENO productions. Recent comic roles elsewhere include Pooh-Bah (Mikado, for Lyric Opera of Chicago) and Bottom (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Boston Lyric Opera). Shore also starred in Greek with Scottish Opera in 2017, praised by The Guardian for its ‘terrific cast’.

Welsh mezzo-soprano and ENO Harewood Artist Samantha Price sings the title role of Iolanthe. Previous roles with ENO include Perdita in the world premiere of Ryan Wigglesworth’s The Winter’s Tale, Cherubino (The Marriage of Figaro) and Kate Pinkerton (Madam Butterfly). In April 2016 she appeared with ENO in Shakespeare Live! at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (now available on BBC DVD).

English soprano Ellie Laugharne sings the role of Phyllis. Engagements with ENO include Barbarina (The Marriage of Figaro) and workshops for the premiere of Between Worlds with Deborah Warner. Further roles include Yum-Yum (concert performances of The Mikado in Birmingham, Manchester and Londonʹs Royal Festival Hall), Mabel (The Pirates of Penzance, for Scottish Opera) and Valencienne (The Merry Widow at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival). Ellie was a Glyndebourne Jerwood Young Artist for the 2012 Festival and sang Lucia (The Rape of Lucretia) for Glyndebourne Touring Opera in 2013.

English mezzo-soprano Yvonne Howard sings the role of Queen of the Fairies. An ENO favourite, previous recent roles with the company include her ‘impressive’ (The Independent) performance as Berta (The Barber of Seville), Katisha (The Mikado) and Caesonia (Caligula). She made her debut with the Royal Opera House‚ Covent Garden as Mercedes (Carmen) in 1991‚ and subsequent roles there have included Suzuki (Madama Butterfly‚ Berta (Il Barbière di Siviglia) and Mother (Hänsel und Gretel).

English baritone Marcus Farnsworth sings the role of Strephon. Marcus previously sang Guglielmo (Così fan tutte) with ENO, and further engagements include Lance Corporal Lewis (in the world premiere of In Parenthesis by Iain Bell for Welsh National Opera), Sid (Albert Herring, in concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra) and Aeneas (Dido and Aeneas, in concert with the Early Opera Company and Christian Curnyn).

Northern Irish ‘remarkable young baritone’ (Classical Source) Ben McAteer makes his ENO debut as the Earl of Mountararat. He was runner-up at the 2012 Kathleen Ferrier Awards and a finalist at the 2014 International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition. For Scottish Opera, Ben sang the roles of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro), Guglielmo (Cosí fan tutte) and Pish-Tush in (The Mikado). He also created the role of James in the world première of The Devil Inside, for which he won Outstanding Performance in an Opera at the My Theatre Awards in Toronto. 

English tenor and former ENO Harewood Artist Ben Johnson sings the role of Earl Tolloller. He represented England in BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2013 and won the Audience Prize. Johnson is a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, 2008 winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Award, 2011 Wigmore Hall Emerging Talent, and a 2013-2015 English National Opera Harewood Artist. He is a professor of singing at the Royal College of Music in London. Recent ENO highlights include Alfredo (La traviata), Tamino (The Magic Flute) and Nemorino (The Elixir of Love).

English Bass Barnaby Rea – ‘outstanding’ (WhatsOnStage) – sings the role of Private Willis. Another former ENO Harewood Artist, previous roles with the company include Sparafucile (Rigoletto), Basilio (The Barber of Seville), Colline (La Bohème) and Lodovico (Otello). 

Welsh soprano Llio Evans makes her English National Opera debut in the role of Celia. A winner of numerous awards, Llio is a British Youth Opera and Welsh National Youth Opera alumna.

English Soprano and ENO Chorus member Joanne Appleby sings the role of Leila. She spent four years performing with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera and Touring Opera Company.

The Olivier and International Opera Award-winning ENO Chorus takes a central role, in this production packed with quirky characters.

Timothy Henty takes the conductor’s baton for this lively production. An expert in Gilbert and Sullivan (and still in his thirties), he has conducted performances of one of ENO’s most renowned Gilbert and Sullivan productions – Mike Leigh’s The Pirates of Penzance in 2015 – as well as The Mikado (The Royal Festival, Birmingham Symphony Hall and Bridgewater Hall), HMS Pinafore (Carl Rosa Opera) and Trial by Jury at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival. In 2008 he collaborated with Anthony Baker to create a new performing version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s lost opera Thespis which received wide critical praise and has now enjoyed five productions internationally.

Henty comments:

‘As a Gilbert and Sullivan enthusiast, I am delighted to be leading the orchestra on one of their funniest productions, and one that is so relevant to our time. W.S. Gilbert’s satirical libretto combines with Arthur Sullivan’s joyful and passionate score, perfectly parodying the Wagnerian style. Cal has directed the piece to make use of the extraordinary capabilities of our award-winning Chorus, who along with our award-winning Orchestra, demonstrate how classical music and theatre make such wonderful bed fellows.’

Iolanthe opens on Tuesday 13 February at 7.30pm at the London Coliseum for 14 performances: 13, 17, 21, 23, 28 February and 09, 23, 27 March and 07 April at 7.30pm, 03 and 17 March at 6.30pm, 17 and 24 February and 7 April at 2.30pm

500 tickets for £20 or less are available for each performance. Tickets start from £12.


Notes to Editors:

English National Opera is founded on the belief that opera of the highest quality should be accessible to everyone. We are a national company of international standard. We forge ground-breaking collaborations across art forms, and our world-class productions inspire, surprise, and captivate. We sing in English. We believe that singing in our own language connects the performers and the audience to the drama onstage, and enhances the experience for all. We bring our productions to the widest possible audience, whether at the London Coliseum, nationally or internationally. We make our work accessible by offering a large proportion of tickets at affordable prices, and by distributing it widely on screen and via digital media. We nurture talent across the entire company, whether on-stage, backstage, or in the pit. We provide a platform for young singers to develop global careers.

We tell the world’s most timeless stories, unforgettably.


Iolanthe – Samantha Price

Phylis – Ellie Laugharne

Queen of the Fairies – Yvonne Howard

Strephon – Marcus Farnsworth

The Lord Chancellor – Andrew Shore

Earl of Mountarat – Ben McAteer

Earl Tolloller – Ben Johnson

Private Willis – Barnaby Rea

Celia – Llio Evans

Leila – Joanne Appleby

Conductor – Timothy Henty