A monarch of the sea sails into Bath

ONE of Gilbert and Sullivan’s best-loved operas, HMS Pinafore, sails into Bath next week, from Wednesday 24th to Saturday 27th January when the always-inventive Opera della Luna makes its Theatre Royal debut as part of its 30th anniversary tour, with its much-praised production of the show that gave the world “the Monarch of the Sea … the ruler of the Queen’s navy.”

Packed with toe-tapping tunes that also include For He Is An Englishman and I’m Called Little Buttercup, the wit and verve of HMS Pinafore is the perfect showcase for the talents of founder-director Jeff Clarke’s company, one of the UK’s leading exponents of operetta and comic music-theatre.

Set in Portsmouth Harbour aboard the HMS Pinafore, this hilarious tale of love, double standards and mistaken identity unravels when Captain Corcoran’s daughter secretly falls in love with a common sailor, Ralph Rackstraw. Pledged by her father to marry the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Joseph Porter, Josephine finds herself hopelessly torn between love and duty. Meanwhile, in a remarkable twist of fate, Little Buttercup boards the ship to sell her wares to the good-natured crew, guarding a long-held secret that could change everything.

Eight talented singers play all the roles, accompanied by a chamber musical ensemble. Opera della Luna has never been daunted by a little cross-dressing, and a few delicately-faced sailors can be seen in the crew, while Sir Joseph Porter’s elderly aunt has some surprisingly fearsome features.

The crew is led by Paul Featherstone as Sir Joseph Porter, with Matthew Siveter as Captain Corcoran, Martin George as Bill Bobstay, John Lofthouse as Dick Deadeye and Sir Joseph’s Aunt, Lawrence Olsworth-Peter as Ralph Rackstraw, Louise Crane as Little Buttercup and Sir Joseph’s Sister, Georgina Stalbow as Josephine and Salisbury-based Lynsey Docherty (founder-director of the Festival of the Voice) as Cousin Hebe.

HMS Pinafore was the first big G&S success and one of Opera della Luna’s most successful productions, seen all over the world, courtesy of the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship. It also played two sell-out seasons in London’s Covent Garden Festival and has toured nationally from Aberdeen to Truro.

Opera della Luna already has a big local following, thanks to regular appearances at the Iford Festival with a repertoire that also includes operas by Johann Strauss as well as a hugely popular production of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. The Stage newspaper says the company is “fast approaching national treasure status”.

The beautiful period costumes are all based on paintings by the Edwardian artist James Tissot, and the set, inspired by HMS Victory, is cleverly constructed by the “sailors” at the beginning of the show.