Festival Theatre, Malvern – 10th September 2022
Reviewed by Courie Amado Juneau
HMS Pinafore (1878), a Comic Opera which gave Gilbert &Sullivan their first international hit, is set aboard ship where the Captain’s daughter loves a lowly sailor, Ralph. Her father has other ideas, namely the First Lord of the Admiralty. Although Josephine tries to appease her father, it’s not long before she and Ralph declare their love and hatch an elopement plan… Like several other Gilbert &Sullivan Operettas, the theme is social conventions and love across the classes.
Opening in surprising (and pleasing) fashion with the musicians on stage dressed as sailors (all the nice girls may love a sailor but I’m a sucker for watching musicians play), during the overture the cast quite literally made the set ship shape (or “ship shaped” since they assembled it before our eyes). An ingenious opening as it also introduced us to the dramatis personae so by the first song proper we were already acquainted with all concerned.
Every Gilbert &Sullivan Operetta has at least one hit known by all and this one has “I’m called Little Buttercup” sung wonderfully by Louise Crane who returns to equally good effect as Sir Joseph’s sister.
Our leading love interests, Ralph Rackstraw (Tim Walton) and Josephine (Georgina Stalbow) made a handsome and believable couple. Both have wonderful singing voices with great range and expression; equally affecting during the quiet passages as they were the soaring high notes.
Captain Corcoran (Matthew Siveter) was a hoot. Whether attempting to control his exasperation as his plans for Josephine unravelled or to keep his upper lip British stiff, his portrayal was an unalloyed triumph. I particularly enjoyed the “never… well, hardly ever” ongoing joke that was still doing the rounds 80 years later with Elvis in Blue Hawaii (proving the ongoing influence of Gilbert’s humour).
Sir Joseph Porter, KCB (Paul Featherstone) was hilarious from his first appearance. His drinking during “When I was a lad” had us in stitches. There’s nothing quite as funny as a jolly song and jig outstaying it’s welcome and his increasing frustration and reactions during the never-ending reprises of “Never mind the why and wherefore” was a doozy! Fantastic.
Ian Belsey gave us two memorable characters in Dick Deadeye (dastardly scoundrel of the piece) and Sir Joseph’s Aunt. I’m not sure who was enjoying his being a lady more, us or him, but I for one was loving it. Cousin Hebe (Lynsey Docherty) was wonderfully snooty but also stole our heart with some lovely asides (or is that out front’s?) with the word “Crushed!” which she employed to great effect.
So we were carried along on waves of emotion, towards the final rousing chorus and dance where all find love and even little Buttercup is redeemed. If only everything in life were so neatly wrapped up to everyone’s satisfaction.
I shall nail my colours to the mast and declare that I absolutely loved this show – wonderful tunes, fantastic comedic acting, pathos, a hissable villain, love triumphing and some seamen right out of the Carry Ons. This show ought to be prescribed on the NHS! Simply perfect from the Opera Della Luna company.