King’s Head Theatre
Reviewed – 16th April 2019
“a wonderful example of the mastery of Gilbert and Sullivan’s waggish, Victorian wit and beautifully accessible melodies holding up to time”
Often disparagingly relegated to second division opera, Gilbert and Sullivan’s works, in collaboration with Richard D’Oyly Carte, consciously moved away from improvised music hall entertainment to develop a niche genre of English light opera using familiar, stock characters and chorus in ‘topsy-turvy’ plots; ‘HMS Pinafore’ is one of their earliest and best-known productions, which pioneered this innovation. Their first international hit, it satirises the unqualified in positions of power and the stigma of social status in relationships. Both the Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter and Captain Corcoran have unmerited ranks of authority and when the Captain’s daughter falls in love with a common sailor, attitudes are challenged in true ‘G and S’ style. The Charles Court Opera Company cleverly brings to life the timelessness of these issues by fast-forwarding to the 1950s and adapts the reduced cast by submerging the crew in a submarine.
The vocal individuality of the company paints a colourful picture of the tangled web of privilege and prejudice and each singer brings a facet to the stage – in particular, Joseph Shovelton’s ease and comic timing as Sir Joseph Porter, Hannah Crerar’s (Bobstay) radiant voice and presence, Alys Roberts as Josephine, maintaining sobriety with a moving “The Hours Creep on Apace” and Catrine Kirkman’s quirky Cousin Hebe who, single-handedly, makes up for Sir Joseph’s original gaggle of female relatives. The ensembles are generally well-balanced throughout, though Matthew Kellett as Dick Deadeye is sometimes overpowered in the company songs and Jennie Jacobs’ (Buttercup) projection fluctuates with her change of register.
Transferring HMS Pinafore to the recent past with Rachel Szmukler’s functional, retro set and bright, vintage costumes and incorporating more contemporary choreography (Damian Czarnecki), director John Savounin builds a fittingly up-to-date adaptation. The acting is perfectly attuned to the size of the venue and the variety of moods creates a captivating fluidity, combining with David Eaton’s musical expertise to illustrate an ironically significant point without losing the enjoyable, traditional charm; only, perhaps, without a ship of men, does the corresponding role of Buttercup become somewhat ambiguous within the modern set-up. This is a wonderful example of the mastery of Gilbert and Sullivan’s waggish, Victorian wit and beautifully accessible melodies holding up to time in an amusing and enticing evening. William and Arthur would undoubtedly be tickled pink to see how little life has changed since they wrote Pinafore and particularly the current feelings and poignancy of mocking pride in “He is an Englishman”.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Robert Workman
King’s Head Theatre until 11th May
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: