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HMS Pinafore

by on 30 October 2021

Making Waves

HMS Pinafore

by Sir Arthur Sullivan, libretto by W. S. Gilbert

English National Opera, at the London Coliseum until 11th December  

Review by Heather Moulson

Yo-ho!  “We sail the ocean blue” … and we had better have a fair wind behind us. This is the first time ENO has presented HMS Pinafore, so who wouldn’t rush to get there?!  

There is an extraordinary air of warm trepidation in the Coli’, London’s most splendid theatre, about Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera, and we were not to be disappointed.   Even before the curtain comes up, the marvellous John Savournin, a versatile British bass-baritone, addresses the audience in character as Captain Corcoran with interaction from Les Dennis as himself.  This worked extremely well, and we all admired the latter for poking fun at himself. 

After the electrifying overture conducted by Chris Hopkins, the stage was opened up to a stunning ship set, designed by Takis, a prolific stage and costume designer.   Sharply detailed, we enjoyed the timeless We shall sail the ocean blue, before the plot really unwound with the bumboat woman, Little Buttercup, an earthy and enticing woman, coming on board.  While she pedalled her wares, Buttercup hinted at a dark secret …

The characters literally jumped on board and were beautifully featured; the lovesick Ralph Rackstraw (Elgar Llyr Thomas), the aforementioned gracious Captain Corcoran (John Savournin), the dogmatic Deadeye (Henry Waddington), the stunning Captain’s daughter, Josephine (Alexandra Oomens), and the magnetic and watchable cabin boy (Rufus Bateman), surrounded by the rest of the talented ship’s crew, who stood out strongly in blue stripes and white trousers.     

Witty lyrics, flowing music and marvellous voices carried this first act along, with its story of the Captain’s principles, Josephine’s attraction to the earnest Rackshaw and then the introduction of The Rt Hon Sir Joseph Porter KCB, played by Les Dennis,whose natural wit and talent made up for his sometimes faltering voice.   

One of the most outstanding scenes, along with the iconic sighting as Sir Joseph’s barge is seen, was the appearance of Sir Joseph’s “sisters, cousins and aunts”.  Colourful and symmetrical costumes stood out to match the flawless voices slickly presented in the wonderful Now give three cheers, I am the monarch of the sea.  First cousin Hebe (Bethan Langford) had a particularly strong stage presence.   

Sir Joseph conveys his rising through the ranks with determination and without qualifications, and his firm principles on etiquette with poignancy and wit.  We were left dangling at the end of the first act as the seemingly doomed couple planned to elope.   Josephine turning her back on her betrothal to Sir Joseph. 

Momentum built up in Act Two as the young cabin boy performed a tap dance to the Sailor’s Hornpipe, joined by the captain then other crew until the stage filled in colourful and skilled choreography.  It was at this point that I felt the show really began to relax, and the cast really steered a sharper pace with the storyline, with the planned elopement, strong scenes with Sir Joseph, Buttercup’s life-changing confession and the various declarations of love with her and the former Captain, Josephine and Ralph Rackstraw now promoted to Captain, and ultimately Sir Joseph and his first cousin Hebe. 

There were momentous curtain calls and many encores.   I would really recommend director Cal McCrystal’s classy production on so many levels, especially as a pre-Christmas outing.  Make it a surprise:  “Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen”

Heather Moulson, October 2021

Photography by Marc Brennan

One Comment
  1. celiabard permalink

    Very much enjoyed reading this review about what seems to be a very good production of HMS Pinafore, one of my favourite Gilbert and Sullivan operas.

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