“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”.
“These are insightful accounts into current struggles in our society”
Described as ‘…a show that explores the ebb and flow at the very core of being human’, ‘Stream: Two New Plays’ is a promising example of a double bill, complementing through genre and mood rather than tenuously linked by its topic. The fresh writing and innovative theatrical ideas make for two interesting works from a new group of creatives and actors in collaboration with Eve and Sea Productions and Stumble Theatre Company.
In ‘Salmon’, written and directed by Constance Eldon McCaig and Eva Lily, we watch Angus spiral to breaking point after the death of his dog, opening our eyes to the lack of purpose felt by so many young people, their inability to admit or express this sense of futility and the abuse of drugs to escape the emptiness. Devoid of prospects in a small town in Scotland, Angus fixates on the salmon’s innate objective in life. The script is well-crafted, combining poetic fragments and shared lines with the main narrative. Josh Smith, as Angus, gives a committed and moving performance as he moves from reality to delirium. Sometimes lacking confidence in the physical theatre of the play’s more surreal scenes and a slickness in the interlinking dialogue, the rest of the cast play his parents, girlfriend and social support who attempt to understand and offer help. The sound and lighting coordinate effectively to create the changes in Angus’s state of mind, and the poetry and relevant music enhance the atmosphere, but the constant soundscape detracts from the strength of the characters on stage, occasionally to the point of rendering them inaudible.
In contrast to the ‘son et lumière’ of the first play, ‘Mom Bob’ is a gentle reflection on the discovery of deep maternal feelings embedded in women, against the odds. Writer, Jane Hancock, plays Claire, recently reconnected with the daughter she gave up for adoption as a teenager. As she sits by a duck pond in Central Park, we learn the story behind her early pregnancy, her decision to give up her daughter and her liberation from domestic abuse. The writing is sensitive and we become engaged with Claire’s journey through life and struggle to come to terms with strong attachments for a child she didn’t raise. Alex Woolley’s direction makes good use of movement to break up the monologue but could vary the pace to internalise Claire’s train of thought and build up a deeper picture. The performance comes across as a linear interpretation of a text rather than from a character with the complexity and underlying fragility of someone marked by their ordeal.
These are insightful accounts into current struggles in our society and on a personal level and the messages are artfully and originally conveyed. Each could take a leaf out of the other’s book – the simplicity of the set in ‘Mom Bob’ and the visceral risk-taking of ‘Salmon’ – to intensify the drama through the acting, yet it is encouraging to see such carefully structured and thoughtfully produced theatre by talented newcomers.