HMS Pinafore, a classic example of Gilbert and Sullivan’s satire of English society and class prejudices, begins with the preparations of the crew for the imminent arrival of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Joseph Porter, who has designs upon the Captain’s daughter, Josephine. The Captain, displaying a fine example of class-conscious snobbery, is overjoyed at the thoughts of such a union for his daughter, until he learns that she has, secretly, fallen in love with Ralph Rackstraw, a common sailor!
Cleverly using the lengthy overture to allow the ‘crew’ to construct an impressive interpretation of the deck of the Pinafore from a few seemingly discarded items on an otherwise dark and empty stage, the direction, by Jeff Clarke, and design of Graham Wynne, promise a fresh and imaginative evening.
Opera Della Luna’s creative approach delights in the joy of clever wordplay, thinly disguised social parallels, and the absurdity of the world created by W.S.Gilbert’s witty libretto.
Simon Buttress revels in his role as Sir Jospeh, and delivers a hearty, traditional G & S rendition of ‘When I was a Lad’, proudly boasting that he worked his way to the very top of the Navy, without ever going to sea. Ian Belsey, as Captain Corcoran, is in fine voice when singing ‘My gallant crew, good morning’ and the ‘well hardly ever’ chorus from 'I am the Captain.." is a particular highlight. ‘Never mind the why and wherefore’, performed by Sir Joseph, the Captain, and Josephine (Rhona McKail), melodiously puts across the message that you can marry beneath (or above) your station.
Louise Crane, as Buttercup, and Trevor Jory as Ralph Rackstraw, get perhaps the best opportunities to shine among the rest of the cast of 8, who all work very hard to keep the pace going, often doubling up on characters. Special credit must go to Graham Hoadly, who delivers two great comic performances as Dick Deadeye and Sir Joseph’s Aunt, and who must surely spend his entire time off stage changing between costumes.
For me, Gilbert and Sullivan are best served by a large cast and orchestra, which is admittedly difficult to achieve in professional theatre today, and lack of this leaves this production feeling a little bit thin. The music is sometimes slightly drowned by the vocals, and words lost due to the diminished chorus.
That said, I defy anyone to see this production and not leave the theatre with a smile on their face, humming 'Now give three cheers..'
HMS Pinafore plays at Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts until 26 June