HMS Pinafore

Date 24th February 2022
Society Blackburn G & S Society
Venue Empire Theatre, Blackburn
Type of Production G&S
Director David Slater
Musical Director John G. Barry
Choreographer Zoe Taylor
Producer The Company
Written By Gilbert and Sullivan


Author: Paul R. Mason

It was refreshing to hear Gilbert’s witty lyrics sung so well during this joyous rendition of “HMS PInafore”. How different to so many of the crass badly constructed songs we have to endure in some modern examples of musical theatre. It is reassuring to know that G. and S. is still alive and well,  able to entertain us in these dark days of the 21st century.

This operetta is jolly, witty, daft and melodious in equal measure.

Before the show began the audience were treated to a special Nautical Ballet courtesy of students from the” Zoe Taylor School Of Dance.” This was a wonderful initiative deftly choreographed by Miss Zoe herself, settling us into the right frame of mind for what was to follow.

Enter the seamen. What an excellent crew they made. I greatly enjoyed their antics. David Seager, Neville Hartley, Philip Mawson, and David Kennedy worked as a team to deliver a highly amusing performance. Dick Deadeye, a moderate villain as the world goes, was dastardly created and played by a not so ugly Bill Shaw. 

Bumboat ladies plied their trade in the late nineteenth century and could, as the song tells us, supply anything that any sailor could possibly want, including illicit  “jacky” which I now know to be gin!  Pineapple Poll aka Mrs. Crabbs aka Little Buttercup delivered the show’s first aria. It is said that Sullivan deliberately kept the tune simple as he wanted young children to play it on the piano. Claire Ashworth was the ideal Buttercup. Her knowing interpretation of the role was engaging. Claire has a massive stage presence. The other able seaman, Ralph Rackstraw, was in the hands of Paul Cross. He also had full control of his role, singing confidently. Deborah Thew has a wonderful vocal range playing Josephine as a well brought up young woman eager to make a love match, anxious not be coerced into marrying a much older man.  (Although this was the norm apparently at the time Pinafore was written). Her father, the good Captain Corcoran, showed himself to be a respected leader of men, wise  and well adjusted. David Slater has a vocal range perfectly designed for G. and S. and reminds me of many of the leading actors of D’Oyly Carte company in days gone by. “Fair Moon To Thee I Sing” was an undoubted  highlight movingly delivered with poignancy while bathed in subtly soft lighting.

Some recent productions of Pinafore have been criticised for going over the top and camping it up. There really is no need to do this and it is a tribute to director David Slater that he did not introduce unnecessary nonsense. It is fully able to hold its own by dint of the lyrics and its ridiculous plot. By all means introduce little bits of delicious business and topical references to covid  but satire only works when it is played with a straight face.  Sir Joseph Porter K.C B. was based on W. H. Smith of newspaper fame who held the post of Lord Of The Admiralty, a political appointment, not to be confused with the First Sea Lord who was an admiral. I suppose the modern equivalent might be a Defence Minister who had never been in the services or a Minister of Education who had never been a teacher. Not that that could possibly happen of course!! Tony Lewis was superb. A master of understatement and self assurance.The ladies, cousins, sisters etc. lit up the stage  swirling in and out adding colour and attitude. Kath Rand, Amy Bell, Barabara Valentine-Ekins, Maryilyn van Eyden, Marion McCumskay, Fleur Bramley, Irene Kennedy and Pauline Nuttall moved well and reacted appropriately to the strange turn of events happening around them.

Musical director John G. Barry led a well drilled band, never too loud and always unobtrusive in their first class playing.

Eric and June Parkington, in charge of set construction and the costumes respectively, were as proficient as they always are. It was an added pleasure to catch up with them again in the bar. 

This was an entertaining, satisfying production reminding us that G. and S. operettas have the power and excellence to still be being performed a hundred years from now when lesser musicals will have been long forgotten.

It is always a thrill for me to be at down at the Empire. Thank you, everyone for your warm welcomes. I look forward to “Jekyll and Hyde” in June.