Wednesday, 17 April 2019

REVIEW: HMS Pinafore at the Kings Head Theatre


The Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas were composed between 1871 and 1896 and for much of the 20th Century were a staple of the annual theatre calendar. They created some enduring characters who were scathing parodies of Victorian public figures. Whilst this clever wit has been largely lost now except for in the deepest programme notes , there have been in the last few decades some creative reimagining of the titles to breath fresh life for a 21st Century audience.

Charles Court Opera are to be applauded for continuing to keep the genre alive with a tenth production at the Kings Head theatre, this time HMS Pinafore. The set designed by Rachel Szmukler promises a fresh exciting reengineering of the title by setting it on a Yellow Submarine in the sixties (judging by Josephine's mini skirts and cape) but it becomes a constraining factor in the production. The turret ladder is not accessible due to the low King's Head roof and the cast either appear through an oval portal in the rear wall from the rest of the ship or through the audience from I assume a more accessible porthole to the outside world. The narrow strip of stage between the three bunk beds and the periscope constrains the movement to a single line facing the audience. The effect is that the action is rather static and unexciting.

Of course the regular Charles Court performers are very good operatic singers and they belt out the familiar tunes with great energy and power accompanied by MD David Eaton on the piano. But the result is too operatic and not comic enough.

Little Buttercup (Jennie Cripps) is the most animated of the cast, revelling in her secret and constantly engaging and reacting with wide eyed delight. She also doubles up as Joseph's sister. Indeed in the chorus to Sir Joseph (Joseph Shovelton) "When I was a lad", she is joined by just Cousin Hebe (Catrine Kirkman ) who carries the urn of the cremated Aunt instead of the usual hoarders of Sisters, Cousins and Aunts in the best visual gag of the show.

Of course there are good renditions of " I am the Captain of the Pinafore", "I am
the monarch of the sea" and " He is an Englishman" which explore the class differences between the rich and lofty and the poor and lowly, a central theme of the show which even 140 years after it was written still seems relevant. There is also a lively version of "Never mind the why and wherefore" with Josephine (Alys Roberts), Joseph and Corcoran where some of the comic potential of the show is demonstrated. 

This is a show for Gilbert and Sullivan aficionados who will enjoy the music but I think it is unlikely to attract a new audience to these classic British Victorian operas.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★

Seat: Stalls row F | Price: £35
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