With OperaUpClose’s La bohème enjoying a seemingly endless run of success in the West End, pub opera is all the rage. Charles Court Opera, whose new production of HMS Pinafore has opened at Islington’s Rosemary Branch Theatre, have some 20 productions under their belt so can claim to have been at it longer than most.
The producers are in trouble if Gilbert and Sullivan’s evergreen comedy isn’t fun and that’s one thing that this production undeniably is. It also has very high musical standards under MD David Eaton. The singing is excellent, a cast of talented young professionals (director John Savournin doubling as a rich-toned Captain Corcoran) bolstered by Simon Masterston-Smith’s vintage Sir Joseph Porter.
Eaton and repetiteur James Young have made piano reductions of no fewer than 10 operas for the company and this one’s surprisingly successful. Sullivan’s score sounds strangely Schubertian in places, played with alternating grace and gusto by the two pianists. In fact, stripped of orchestra and played nose to nose, there’s a lieder-like feel to the whole evening.
The acting will please to the extent of one’s tolerance for panto. A degree of mugging is to be expected in this repertoire but it here flutters constantly around the boundary of acceptability. It’ll work if you like your comedy wide in the beam but, for me, the ridiculousness of Gilbert’s characters benefit from a greater degree of truthfulness.
There are some good gags though. For the sake of economy the sisters and cousins lose their plurality and there’s a witty appearance from the singular aunt.
James Perkins designs with stylish simplicity. The writers themselves look down over the proceedings, Sullivan on a golden sun in the first act and Gilbert a reclining man in the moon after the interval. One can’t help feeling they’re approving of what they see.