Trial by Jury & HMS Pinafore

Date 10th February 2012
Society Blackburn G & S Society
Venue Thwaites Empire Theatre, Blackburn
Type of Production Gilbert & Sullivan
Director David Slater


Author: Paul Mason

The integrity of this special double helping of G & S was assured from the moment Eric Parkinson stepped forward to bring us to order as the Court Usher. Trial by Jury is a slight piece depending for its success on confident playing and trying to convince the audience that those inhabiting the Court really care about the nonsensical case. Both the jury men (and the ladies in the gallery) achieved this by reacting to everything that was said in an appropriate manner. How often do choruses fall into the trap of simply inhabiting the stage without showing any inkling that they are part of the action? Not so with this production. Everyone looked as though they really cared, and if the cast care then the audience quickly catch on and will care too! Once this rapport has been established then we don’t mind what lunacy is shown to us, we are ‘in on the joke’ and looking to be entertained.
Producer, David Slater had organised his stage well and was ably served by his principals. Empire favourite, Jim Lancaster was in fine voice, as usual. Joyce Kearton, herself a popular performer at the theatre, made a beguiling Plaintiff, impressively handling the high soaring notes at the conclusion of some songs. David Slater judges where to draw the line between farce and high comedy superbly. It is a requirement of playing G & S that you have to get this balance right. Experienced players feel it innately. It was a feature and considerable strength of both Trial and Pinafore that this line was never crossed by any of the players. John Chadwick as the Counsel held the stage confidently adding colour to the proceedings. The Bridesmaids brightened the stage. I must pay tribute to June Parkington and her wardrobe team. Both operas were magnificently dressed. Costume is a facet of production that can sometimes be compromised by other societies. Trial by Jury was a fine introduction to the main offering of HMS Pinafore.

In both operettas the lighting by Harold Carter was sympathetic to the action and was the ‘extra character’ creating or enhancing the mood appropriately. The sets too impressed. I particularly liked the Red Ensign which did look as if it was really flying, Eric Parkington on the case here. And so to board the good ship Pinafore. The dancers of the Zoe Taylor Dance Academy drew us into the nautical spirit with a lively hornpipe that made excellent use of the stage. The chorus of sailors were jaunty, jolly and jocular. I appreciated the tar who throughout added little bits of ‘business’ to his role. I do not know your name sir, but you know who you are, well done! I had my eye on you and you amused me greatly. Every chorus needs one, and only one, true clown. Clive McCoy navigated the role of Captain Cuttlefish; sorry did I get that wrong – with weary forbearance. This contrasted successfully when he was translated to a common seaman with change of accent and demeanour. Dick Deadeye, Jonathan Scadding, was just plain horrible – as he should be! Josephine, the Captain’s Daughter was simply outstanding. Lisa Schilz held the stage brilliantly demonstrating great vocal ability – a performance to relish! Jim Lancaster, as Ralph Rackstraw again used his presence to good effect while Heather Nicholas as Little Buttercup was a sheer delight, a confident, engaging interpretation. Once again the ladies of the chorus impressed as the Admiral’s sisters, cousins and aunts. Sir Joseph Porter was in the safe hands of Arthur Baines. His blend of pomposity, incompetence and sheer blarney was mixed to just the right consistency. As musical director, Geoff Hill had orchestrated his cast well – the musicians were on top form too.
A most entertaining evening – Thanks you. And Yes, it probably was the cat!