“HMS Pinafore re-launched!” 19 November 2011 Secombe Theatre, Sutton
Thank you very much for inviting me to Wimbledon Light Opera Society’s production of “HMS Pinafore re-launched!” recently at the Secombe Centre. Thanks also to Marion Barton for making the ticket arrangements.
The fourth collaboration between Gilbert & Sullivan was their first blockbuster hit: “HMS Pinafore”, or “The Lass That Loved a Sailor.” This opera opened May 28, 1878 at the Opera Comique. It ran for 571 performances and became a huge fad in England, as well as in America, being copied illegally by dozens of performing companies in the US, as well as being presented there by Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte themselves. Pinafore is among the most popular Gilbert and Sullivan operas, perhaps because of its infectious tunes and generally well-constructed libretto. Drawing on several of his earlier “bab ballad” poems, Gilbert embued HMS Pinafore with mirth and silliness to spare. The opera’s gentle satire reprises and builds upon one of The Sorcerer’s themes: Love between members of different social classes. This however was no traditional version but an amalgam of many ideas that have influenced musicals and operetta since G&S were at their height – a re-launching you may say!
This was a production with a smile on its face and with a vision to bring G&S accessibility to a wider, modern audience. The first thing to say is that WLOS certainly succeeded with this production which was delivered wholeheartedly. Having performed in and directed a production of HMS Pinafore fairly recently, I was looking forward to sitting back, relaxing and enjoying a different interpretation. When I go and view a show that is so well known and often performed, I wonder what the Director is going to do with it which hasn’t been done before, especially when it has been renamed. This production certainly was very different but also very intriguing. Firstly, HMS Pinafore is a relatively short show on its own and by adding in additional material it can be ‘padded out’ to an acceptable length. Secondly, this allowed the society to enjoy the beautiful music whilst adding in dozens of topical gags and lastly, it enables a few more members of the society to perform minor roles, which wouldn’t otherwise be possible. I’m sure many of your patrons would be members of other societies and would appreciate all the fantastic humour / in-jokes and observations that were on offer. On the opposite side, I’m sure there were some traditionalists in attendance who prefer G&S not to be tampered with. However, even the deepest traditionalist would have appreciated the amount of care and love that went into this re-written version.
As the curtain rose we were introduced to the main deck of HMS Pinafore. There was more than a passing resemblance to what you would expect when attending Anything Goes but it was impressive. Steps led up either side of the stage to give other levels and the bunting gave some welcome colour to the otherwise white ship. We knew straight away that we were not in the 1880s but transferred to more modern times. It was quite difficult to put an actual era on the production as the passengers, crew and captain were an ensemble of different eras but I guess that was the point in not pigeon-holing the production.
There were some lovely modern touches and a nod or two to the EssGee Australian production which have upgraded G&S productions in their own way. My favourites gags were the references to ebay, the yellow coats of Hi-de-Hi complete with Ruth Madoc style voice-over (thanks Laurie) and various and plentiful changes of content and tempo in the music. Clearly the wider creative team had put a lot of work into this production and for this they should be congratulated.
Angela Daniel was at the wheel as Director and presumably was the driving force behind this concept version. Her ensemble were well drilled and well directed and everyone looked to me to be enjoying themselves. The quality of music is very important in a production of this scale. Musical Director Jon Mizler was in charge of a splendid band and an equally talented ensemble. I must also mention the contribution of Paul Sadler at this point – a great influence on the written music and harmonies. Principals and chorus alike sang well with only the odd moment when a principal was seen to be struggling. There is no doubt that strong ensemble vocals were much in evidence and along with some extremely cheesy dialogue were about the high points of the show. Mithu Lucraft, Friesia Schuil and Angela Daniel were the Choreography team and their vision was disciplined and good solid traditional ‘chorus as one’ group routines. It looked to me like the ensemble were individually giving their all in these numbers.
Technically, the show went pretty smoothly. A production with John Huckle in charge is always going to be in safe hands and Emily McDonald in charge of the backstage crew as well as David Croft building the set completed an admirable team. Paul Flook as Lighting Designer provided an interesting and colourful plot. The Sound was well controlled by David Godwin. The costumes under Janet Huckle were impressive, colourful and varied. Susan Mills provided the props which was no mean achievement.
There are too many named principals to comment on individually but I have written a few notes on some of lead principals:
Josephine – Amanda Stewart – Amanda’s acting and singing was very strong. ‘Sorry her Lot’ was beautifully sang and ‘The hours Creep on Apace’ had a very amusing second verse, very well delivered with references to Primark and Prada.
Ralph – Robert Lomax – I enjoyed Robert’s version of Ralph and demonstrated a lovely tenor voice alongside actually looking the part. ‘A Maiden Fair to See’ was excellent and had a fantastically strong ending.
Captain – Jason Thomas – Also looked sharp and appropriate. I particularly liked the duet with Buttercup – ‘Fair Moon’ and ‘Captain Shaw’ (Iolanthe) combined which worked beautifully.
Sir Joseph – Robert Owen – A real entertainer, Robert brought his own interpretation to the role with more than a hint of Frankie Howerd on view.
Buttercup – Trudi Camilleri – Trudi was what I would lovingly call a pocket battleship. Trudi made a great entrance and introduced us to her wares. As mentioned the duet with the Captain was memorable.
Dick Deadeye – Nick Simpson – As the ship’s Handyman, I’ve seen more evil Deadeye’s and heard better singers but I thought Nick’s pantomime baddie was equally engaging.
Sisters Singing Trio – Marion Barton / Naomi Fieldus / Friesia Schuil – A very, very welcome upgrade to the traditional came in the form of these three sexy ‘angels’. ‘Gaily Singing’ & ‘Three Little Maids so Cool’ were excellent. In general, if the show was threatening to sag a little these three would burst on to give much energy and pizzazz.
Boatswain – Michael Pandazis – The patter song with all the countries was performed with great skill.
Cousin Hebe / Aunt – Libby Asher / Carole Homer – A couple of nice cameos from these two ladies and who would have expected what we were about to receive from Carole in particular.
There were some lovely cameos amongst the ensemble and indeed some lovely voices coming through to back up your principals. I thought the build up towards Act One Finale was the best part of the show for me. I loved ‘What a Lovely Summer’s Day’ right through to the end of the act. This was definitely the ensemble of WLOS at their best.
Congratulations to Angela Daniel and her creative team for an entertaining performance and hopefully you will have been able to balance your books accordingly. I am convinced that this production was a fitting tribute to the memory of Ali Ghiassi.
The souvenir programme had an excellent layout and interesting content. Short biogs and especially photographs are always very welcome as it shows the relevant experience and growth of performers. Thanks also for including the page on NODA – most appreciated.
Once again thank you for inviting me to the Secombe Centre and best wishes for your next production “Curtains” – sounds very intriguing.
I look forward to seeing you again soon and if I can be of any assistance at any time, please do not hesitate to contact me.
London Area 3