Fringe Box



Review: HMS Pinafore – Yvonne Arnaud

Published on: 20 Sep, 2012
Updated on: 13 Oct, 2012

By The Stage Dragon

Fans of Gilbert and Sullivan may be in for a few surprises with this inventive version of HMS Pinafore. The Opera Della Luna’s production took the show in a new direction in its performance at The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre last night, but was still a huge hit with a loyal audience.

A comic opera in two acts, HMS Pinafore tells the story of a Captain’s daughter who falls in love with a lowly sailor, whilst her father attempts to set up a marriage between her and the pompous First Lord of the Admiralty.

Captain’s daughter Josephine (Rhona McKail) and sailor Ralph Rackstraw (Tim Walton) fall in love.

Traditional productions have usually involved large choruses and detailed sets, portrayed in a late 1800s period when the show was written. The Opera Della Luna, determined to make their own mark, cut out the chorus and set the time back to a Dickensian period.

The company thought that, unlike other Gilbert and Sullivan productions, this opera had many resonances with Dickensian issues, such as social injustice, and that setting it in that period would illuminate the message. But with a target audience of more elderly and middle aged couples it was a risky move.

It paid off. The audience laughed and hummed in all the right places. A few cheers were even heard during the more iconic songs.

The singing was undoubtedly a highlight of the show and the cast voices dazzled with no need for electronic amplification. Rhona McKail, who played leading lady Josephine, dominated the stage with her phenomenal voice, slightly overshadowing anyone else who sung with her.

The comedy acting was wonderful. Ian Belsey evoked many laughs as the proud and pompous Captain Corcoran and Philip Cox was a splendidly petty and arrogant Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty.

Captain Corcoran (Ian Belsey) and Little Buttercup (Louise Crane)

However the comedy highlight of the show was without doubt, Carl Sanderson. Doubling up as ‘Dick Deadeye’ and  ‘Sir Joseph’s aunt’,  Sanderson showed great versatility in being able to get as many laughs as an ancient wizened seamen as he did as a falsetto pantomime dame. His physical comedic style meant he was always a focus for laughs, even when not at the forefront of the plot.

The only slight weak link in the chain was Tim Walton as Ralph Rackstraw (the lowly sailor who Josephine is in love with). Although he had a pleasant singing voice and some good comedy lines, he usually faded into the background when on stage with stronger characters.  In a duet with McKail his voice was on a different level and a little drowned.

The set was simple, but effective and the Opera Della Luna’s take on the Overture at the beginning of the show was one of the highlights. The cast actually ‘built’ the set, all in character as the ship’s crew doing some maintenance work, whilst bringing in props and setting up the stage. It was a perfect example of the  Opera Della Luna’s originality which made the show their own.

Perhaps HMS Pinafore does not have a lot to entice the younger generation, but this is no fault Opera Della Luna’s. But the target audience had turned up and were clearly firm fans. The first night boasted a completely full house. Chatting to some audience members in the interval, many fondly reminisced how much the show reminded them of happy school days.

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