What is to be done with G & S? Until 1961, when the copyright on the Savoy Operas expired, the question didn't arise because the D'Oyly Carte Company had productions preserved in aspic and nobody was permitted to do anything but slavish imitations of the 19th-century originals. Since then, D'Oyly Carte has gone out of business and all manner of stratagems have been attempted to make the works more palatable to today's audiences.
The Carl Rosa Company, itself a victim of market forces in 1959, but born again five years ago, seeks to "look at what the operas essentially are, without feeling the need on one hand to produce a carbon copy of Gilbert's stage directions, or on the other to search desperately for a way of being 'available' to modern audiences." Sadly, not even the adoption here of Timothy West as director of HMS Pinafore can make the aspiration work.
West makes a case for the show being about 'the winds of change' - the stirrings of Marxism pushing at the portals of the old hierarchical order and the comfort-blanket of the class system - but it's a case which struggles against the whimsical text of W S Gilbert and the tinkly tunes of Arthur Sullivan, in a daft tale of babies swapped at birth meeting their eventual comeuppance to create a happy romantic ending.
True, there are fine moments of burlesque: the cod patriotism of "For He Is an Englishman" is splendid. And we're told that the character of Sir Joseph Porter is a parody of the newsagent WH Smith, mocking the idea that a clerk with no knowledge of the sea could now be promoted to be First Lord of the Admiralty.
The casting in West's production, alas, is witness to the restricted choice of the underfunded company, in that the singers are weak actors and the actors can't sing. We have a Captain Corcoran who appears distinctly younger than his daughter, a Dick Deadeye who, by no means as repulsive or menacing as he claims to be, is more wimpish whinger than Cassandra and a Boatswain reminiscent of Eddie Large in a romper suit. But all of them sing like angels.
Colin Baker, on the other hand, as the First Lord of the Admiralty, struts wonderfully and has a final joyous Mr Toad moment but, on press night, bore witness either to chronic laryngitis or to the fact that he simply sings flat. The sole exception to these strictures is the Little Buttercup of Beverley Klein, a performance which confirms Klein as a music theatre actor of considerable wit and stature.
- Ian Watson (reviewed at York's Grand Opera House)