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HMS Pinafore

by on 15 November 2021

Well-Oiled Rollocks

HMS Pinafore

 by Arthur Sullivan, libretto by W. S. Gilbert  

Opera Anywhere, The Players Theatre, Thame, 13th November then on tour until June 2022

Review by Nick Swyft

“We sail the ocean blue” …  Well, crossed the Chilterns actually.  Saturday’s port was The Players Theatre in Thame where Opera Anywhere offloaded its cargo to a packed audience, a rollicking performance of HMS Pinafore.

HMS Pinafore’s maiden voyage was in 1878, when its London premiere ran for nearly six hundred performances, one of longest theatre runs at the time.  Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy Operas towered over the musical stage for the rest of the century.  But, who would have thought that 19th century comedy operetta could remain so popular in the 21st century?  W.S Gilbert isn’t well known as a dramatist, nor arguably is Arthur Sullivan a great composer in his own right, but together the pair managed to produce a kind of timeless magic.  The songs are the material of ear worms.  Like it or not you will leave the theatre humming them.

The plot, like many such stories, is shallow and undemanding.  The Right Hon Sir Joseph Porter (the redoubtable Mike Woodward), ‘Ruler or the Queen’s Naveee’, is to marry Captain Corcoran’s (Sam Young) beautiful daughter Josephine (Catrin Lewis), but she is in love with one of the sailors, Ralph Ratstraw (Tristan Stocks), who also loves her.  Sir Joseph might be an obvious villain, but HMS Pinafore is not intended to take sides in the class war of the time, and he is presented as a well-meaning bumbling fool in G&S’s gentle lampoon.  (He is the satirical projection of W H Smith, of newsagent fame, then the First Lord of the Admiralty.)

The real villain is Dick Deadeye (Mark Horner) who attempts to thwart the plans of the lovers.  The rest of the cast, in the shape of the remainder of the crew of the Pinafore (Maciek O’Shea), Sir Joseph’s ‘aunts, sisters and cousins’ (Hannah Ambrose) and of course Mrs Cripps, who likes to be known as ‘Little Buttercup’ (Vanessa Woodward), provided excellent comedy support.

Of course, no one can marry above their station, and after a bit of class shuffling appropriate spouses are found for all.  Sir Joeph marries his first cousin Hebe (Freya Jacklin) rather than the beautiful Josephine, the former Captain Corcoran can now marry his ‘Little Buttercup’, and Josephine, of course, marries Ralph, newly promoted to Captain.  Thus we can all leave with the requisite ‘feel-good glow’.  Whether they remain happily married or not after such hasty courtships is a subject for a different kind of drama, and we are not to know if the Pinafore then foundered on rocks because Ralph knew nothing about being a ship’s Captain.

A full orchestra is clearly not feasible here but Music Director and pianist Nia Williams, together with Nick Planas on various wind instruments, were good enough to make one wonder why a full orchestra was ever needed.

Nick Swyft, November 2021

Photography by John Alcock

One Comment
  1. celiabard permalink

    So agree with this reviewer… very hard to leave a Gilbert and Sullivan production without wanting to tap your feet!

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