Wow! What an amazing review! Well done everyone. .
Epsom Light Opera Company – HMS Pinafore 13th April, 2016
Having performed in and directed over 100 Gilbert and Sullivan shows including this one, I know the repertoire rather well. To be honest, HMS Pinafore is not even among my top ten as I find the plot unconvincing and the humour forced in places. I therefore took my seat with a heavy heart to review this show – and then Damascus!! All those stodgy D’Oyle Carte productions and tedious amateur ones including many in which I have appeared – Gone!! Just like that.
The “magical” director James Fortune – a member of the Inner Magic Circle – sprinkled a ship load of magic dust all over this seminal production. It was, in essence, a new show with some familiar characters and melodies, and I simply loved it! WS Gilbert was the most topical of writers and men ….. “No telephone communicates with his cell” (1878). But Gilbert was soon to install the new telephone in his home and in the Savoy Theatre, so what better than a “cell” phone in this age of technology. “Rafe” became “Ralph” (except to Dick Deadeye) and then, upon his demotion, back to “Rafe” again. Hebe became a Lady Jane type (“Patience”) complete with several “crushed” and “crushed again”. This much enlarged part was forcefully played by Charlie Hoddell and was hugely enoyable.
There was a running gag where Sir Joseph called Captain Corcoran every name under the sun beginning with “C” save the correct one. Around 15% of all the dialogue was not from Gilbert, but was instead modernised, usually humourously. Two sailors were drummed upon stage before the show properly began to sing an amusing ditty asking the audience to turn off their ‘phones. There was ships rigging in the balcony of the theatre where we first observed Ralph Rackstraw, who was sensibly cast a little older than usual to look at least closer to the captain’s age. This age problem is to my mind an obstacle HMS Pinafore can never truly overcome.
The essential class system plot was faithfully maintained however, despite Sir Joseph letting his hair down and throwing bottles / glasses in the “Never mind ….” trio, together with Josephine and Captain “Corkscrew”. These were neatly caught by the attentive crew. All G&S operas are of their time, but to survive in the modern world and, crucially, to attract younger people both in cast and audiences, they must be relevant to today’s world. I loved the two naughty sailors, Helen Ash and Daniel Crego-Bustelo. They had attitude aplenty and revelled in it.
We were treated to a professional singer playing Josephine. The beautiful tones of Honey Rouhani lit up the stage, acting and flirting deliciously. A rare treat!
Little Buttercup – Lisa Scott – was larger than life, charismatically and sympathetically played. Nic Ash as Captain Corcoran, Corkscrew, Cauliflower etc. became Captain “Cor blimey” upon his demotion and was a marvellous foil to the madcap Sir Joseph of Chris Evans. Chris had much of the humour in this version, including wonderful non-Gilbertian lines. He appeared on deck wearing a pink rubber ring and dominated the stage throughout.
James Turnbull was another top quality performer as Ralph Rackstraw. His duet “Refrain audatious Tar” with Josephine was special, as was his speech ending “I hope I make myself clear, lady” .
Dilip Patel was the villain Dick Deadeye, appearing “magically” downstage left and whispering urgently to the captain. Dilip was one of the best Deadeye’s I have seen, which are many in number. He sang his song from Princess Ida brilliantly – a most “disagreeable man”. This is said to be based upon W.S. Gilbert himself who, though he was certainly often disagreeable, not least to Richard D’Oyly Carte himself, was much loved by his company for his many kindnesses to the chorus. History has slightly misrepresented Gilbert as a person.
Chris Haslett was a fine boatswain, singing his song “He is an Englishman” with fervour. Len Martin also did well as his Mate. Emily Evans was entirely typical of this sparkling production as a winning Midshipmite.
The chorus were fully supportive of these special principals, dancing energetically with some excellent costumes by Costume Workshop, who supply the Harrogate Festival. I particularly liked the Drunken Tappers.
Yet another innovation was the sound and lighting effects when the Captain was being taught to dance a hornpipe on his table by Sir Joseph. The Ruddigore patter trio worked well too and all three parts could be heard. The singing throughout the whole show was of top order!!
The band under the sure command of Musical Director David Edwards was always supportive, never overpowering the singing, giving full vent to Sullivan’s genius. It also had the required pace – many amateur companies take G&S too slowly, spoiling the beauty – not so here, thanks goodness.
Choreographer Amy Astley had clearly driven a dedicated company into giving their very best in her sparkling dance routines. The company movements were crisp and polished. The “Catherine Wheel” sailor effect was superbly carried out.
A special mention must be made of the superb set, one of the best I have ever seen on the amateur stage. The ship was entirely realistic looking, though the programme credited no-one especially responsible. Whoever designed it and built it deserves great credit. Perhaps it was brought in from a professional set hire company?
The evening ended with the superb Josephine, Buttercup and Hebe leading the whole company in “Rule Brittania”. Rule ELOC would be more appropriate.