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Iolanthe - Home Educators Trip 

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Saturday 1st July 2023, 2.30pm, The Royal Hippodrome Theatre, Eastbourne

Accessible comic opera sung in English - the perfect introduction for children.

Adults/carers £12 (normal price £18), Under 18s £2 - only when booked as part of this trip. 

Email us for further information and to book a place on the trip. 

About Iolanthe

First performed in 1882 at the Savoy Theatre in London, Iolanthe celebreates the Victorian obsession with fairies and satirises the peerage system of the day. Its cutting humour still resonates today.

Iolanthe is an exiled fairy, banished for 25 years by the fairy queen, for marrying a mortal - a crime under fairy law. Her half-fairy son, Strephon, is in love with Phyllis, but she is the ward of the Lord Chancellor. When Strephon becomes a member of Parliament, and the fairies infiltrate the House of Lords, the world of politics is thrown into disarray.


Can the two sides be reconciled? Will Phyllis and Strephon find their happily ever after? What will be Iolanthe's fate? All will be revealed in this sparkling production from Eastbourne's very own Gilbert & Sullivan Society!

Learning Ideas

Gilbert & Sullivan

Gilbert & Sullivan's operas were the popular entertainment of their day, and the first form of musical theatre to be accessible to the masses - before these collaborations it was just grand opera, in other languages, for rich people! Without Gilbert & Sullivan, there would be no Rogers & Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber or Lin Manuel Miranda.

Learning ideas:

  • Watch our 'Beginner's Guide to Gilbert & Sullivan' and find out about the famous duo. Older kids could also watch the film Topsy Turvy, which is all about the life and works of Gilbert & Sullivan.

  • What does Iolanthe have in common with modern day musicals, and what is different?

  • Discuss how social attitudes have changed since the opera was written, and what clues there are in the dialogue.

  • Write a review of Iolanthe as if seeing it for the first time in 1882.

The Victorians

A trip to see Iolanthe is the perfect tie-in to a topic on the Victorians, and a chance to imagine yourself in the shoes of a Victorian person off to the opera. The topics explored in the show reveal much about Victorian society and politics - class system, women's rights, and more.

Learning ideas:

  • What else was popular on the Victorian stage at the time? 

  • Find out about some of the other strange leisure pursuits enjoyed by Victorians

Electricity & Innovation

Iolanthe was the first new theatre production to be performed in the newly built Savoy Theatre in 1882 - the first public building to be lit entirely by electric lights. Inventor Joseph Swan was the brains behind the lighting technology, which also extended onto the costumes, with tiny lights in the fairies' dresses and tiaras. This is where we get the name 'fairy lights'.

Learning ideas:

  • Find out about the invention of incandescant bulbs, and the rivalry between Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan.

  • Make your own fairy crown with battery powered fairy lights


The Savoy Theatre was the home of Gilbert & Sullivan's operettas from 1881 when it was built. Here is an article from the Times of that year, describing all its features. The architect of the Savoy, C.J. Phipps, also designed The Royal Hippodrome Theatre in Eastbourne, where this production of Iolanthe is being staged.

Learning ideas:

  • Take some photos of the Royal Hippodrome Theatre during your visit (not during the performance please!), and compare them to photos of the Savoy you can find online. What are the similarities and differences? How do they both compare to other theatres you have visited?

  • Design your own theatre and make a model of it.

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The plot of Iolanthe revolves around the fairies disrupting the House of Lords and interfering in politics. The writer, W.S. Gilbert was well known for satirising politics and other institutions, and portrays the Lords in Iolanthe as bumbling and dim witted.

Learning ideas:

  • Find out about the history of the House of Lords and the British Peerage system. What has changed since Victorian times and what remains the same?

  • Have a look at the libretto for Iolanthe - what references can you find to specific laws and bills? Find out more about them


Victorians were obsessed with fairies and fantasy, and this was reflected in the literature and arts of the time. Before Iolanthe, W.S. Gilbert had already written about fairies, in his play, Foggerty's Fairy, and one of his 'Bab Ballads', The Fairy Curate.

Learning Ideas:

  • Read some Victorian fairy tales, or listen to our radio play of Foggerty's Fairy, and write a fairy inspired story, play or poem of your own 

  • Look at Victorian art featuring fairies and create your own fairy painting, or follow a tutorial


Patter Songs

You may hear some words in the show that are unfamiliar. Here are a few you can explore, along with their meanings:

Peri - a fairy-like being

Vagary - an unpredictable action or unusual idea

Chancery - the office or department of a chancellor

Bombazine - a twill fabric

Arcady/Arcadia - A simple and peaceful place

Espoused - an old fashioned word for married

Tempest - a violent storm

Dolce far niente - Italian for a pleasant lack of activity

Tarradiddle - a small lie or pretentious nonsense

Injurious - harmful or hurtful

Quandary - a state of uncertainty

Seminary - school 

Hoi polloi - the common people

Admonish - to tell someone off or warn them 

Tarry - to linger or wait around

Suppliant - someone humbly praying

Forbear - to hold back

Whigs & Tories - slang for the two main political parties during Victorian times (Whigs = Liberals, Tories = Conservatives)

Ovidious Naso - A Roman poet, better known as Ovid

Captain Shaw - The Chief Officer of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade

Rothschild and Baring - rival banking firms 

You can read the full script online

Learning ideas: 

- Can you incorporate some of these words into your next piece of creative writing?

- Note down any other words you hear in the show that you don't recognise, and research them afterwards

Patter songs appear in every Gilbert & Sullivan opera, and were made popular by the operas, although this form of fast-delivered song dates back to Ancient Greek comedies, and has continued into modern day with what we now call rap - in shows like Hamilton, and in popular music.

Iolanthe has not one but three patter songs, the most famous of which is the Nightmare song, where the Lord Chancellor is tortured by his dreams. Here is our Lord Chancellor, Paul, singing this back in 2015 - when he played the same character in that year's production.

In the video below are some examples of more up to date patter songs, from Stephen Sondheim's musicals.


Learning idea: Have a listen to some different patter songs, and try learning one of them off by heart!


Do send us photos of anything you create inspired by our production. You can tag us @EastbourneGandS on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok

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