HMS Pinafore

Date 23rd February 2024
Society Astwood Bank Operatic Society
Venue The Norbury Theatre, Droitwich
Type of Production G&S
Director Rob Mead & Jennifer Nunn
Musical Director Ian Hayward
Choreographer Beth Hemmings
Written By W.S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan


Author: Chris Davies

Gilbert and Sullivan’s famous operettas, once mainstays of amateur musical theatre, seem to be rare beasts on the stage nowadays.  So it was a refreshing change to join Astwood Bank Operatic Society, and a packed house at the Norbury Theatre, on board the HMS Pinafore for a tale of love, honour and duty.

HMS Pinafore, the show that really kick-started Gilbert and Sullivan’s career, tells the tale of a love affair between Captain Corcoran's daughter, Josephine, and a lower-class sailor, Ralph Rackstraw.  Her father has other ideas, having already lined up Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty.  The path of true love is complicated by the rigid social order of the time, as well as the machinations of sailor Dick Deadeye.  Meanwhile, Corcoran begins his own romance, with dockside vendor Little Buttercup.  Much to-ing and fro-ing later, Josephine and Ralph are finally united when Buttercup reveals (rather improbably, it must be said) that Corcoran and Rackstraw were swapped at birth. 

As the two sweethearts at the core of the story, Jo Hargreaves and Tom Mullins worked well together as Josephine and Ralph.  Josephine’s character was well established in ‘Sorry her lot who loves too well’, and Ralph’s early ballad ‘The nightingale sighed for the moon’s bright ray’ was touchingly delivered.  As Captain Corcoran, Ben Moore was suitably upstanding (and obsequious in Sir Joseph’s presence).  He nicely portrayed the character’s dilemma, finding plenty of opportunities for humour as his concern mounted for his daughter’s fate. 

Christa Gaskell played a Liverpool-accented Mrs Cripps (aka Little Buttercup) with a confident air, lending real clarity to the final scene in which she revealed the twist of ‘A many years ago’.  Her duet with Corcoran, was also well conceived and performed.  Michael Treagust gave us an unconventional, deliciously camp Joseph Porter, bringing to mind (for me at least) the tailors in the Fast Show ‘Suit you, sir!’ sketch.  Melanie Hart provided a good foil as Hebe, his long-suffering companion and eventual match. 

Amongst the sailors, Ian Walton and Stewart Vick kept everything shipshape at the lively (and wonderfully alliterative pair) Bill Bobstay and Bob Becket.  John Clay was every inch the grizzled old seadog Dick Deadeye, wonderfully curmudgeonly as he gave away the lover’s plan in ‘Kind Captain, I’ve important information’.  A word too for Will Chalk as Tom Tucker, sharing the stage with both his sister Imogen and his grandmother, Jean!

A twenty strong supporting cast of sailors, sisters, cousins and aunts provided colourful and very tuneful support throughout.  I particularly liked the snake of people that wound its way around the stage as Josephine and Ralph plotted their elopement.  A team of four dancers – Beth Hemmings, Kirsty Hendry, Imogen Chalk and Georgie Roberts ran through what seemed the entire repertoire of sailor dances, adding great energy to the group scenes.

Directors Rob Mead and Jennifer Nunn did a good job of mastering the large cast, effectively lampooning the hypocrisy of Victorian attitudes to class and social standing.  They conjured some nicely theatrical set pieces, supported by assistant choreographer Beth Hemmings.  I particularly liked the full-throated ‘Now give three cheers’ as Sir Joseph and his entourage took the stage, and a very humorous ‘Never mind the why and wherefore’ in which Josephine, Corcoran and Sir Joseph contemplated the future. ‘He is an Englishman’ saw an impressive amount of flag waving (although, strangely given the lyrics, no English ones!) 

Musical Director Ian Hayward expertly marshalled a five-piece band which somehow managed to sound a lot larger.  There were some good harmonies from the ensemble, and all of the Principals sang well, handling those famous G&S tongue-twisters with aplomb!

The show was simply set on the deck of the Pinafore, with a couple of doors leading to the interior, offstage spaces.  Perhaps a little bit more attention could have been paid to detail in the set, but the elevated section at the rear provided some nice variation in height.  Costuming was handled well, as was lighting, particularly for the night-time scenes, which generated a good atmosphere without sacrificing visibility of the actors.

Congratulations to the whole team at Astwood Bank on a thoroughly enjoyable evening.  A Gilbert & Sullivan classic, well performed, to an appreciative audience.  What could be better?  I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

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