HMS Pinafore, Theatre Royal Bath and touring

pinafore2HAVING thoroughly enjoyed Sasha Regan’s all-male version of The Pirates of Penzance last year, I was pretty certain that her treatment of HMS Pinafore was going to be just as much fun.

How right I was; with MD Richard Bates’ sparkling piano playing and some astonishing and athletic choreography from Lizzi Gee, this high energy show was everything it should have been. Ever since the D’Oyly Carte Company lost control of the performing rights for G and S there have been numerous attempts to re-vamp the Savoy Operas, some, naturally enough, more successful than others.  But with her H.M.S. Pinafore, Sasha Regan has, once more, breathed new life into an enduring classic with the result that the show is an absolute joy from start to finish.

The production is set in the hold of a Second World War battleship where, in a tale of love between the English social classes, Regan’s cast of 16 play both the burly sailors of HMS Pinafore and the genteel entourage of sisters, cousins and aunts that accompany Sir Joseph Porter KCB wherever he goes.  Of course, all ends happily ever after, but not before we have been entertained with a jolly plot, some fine character portrayals and loads of wonderfully energetic singing and dancing.

Tom Senior, with his appealing singing voice and powerful figure, excelled in the role of Ralph, the smartest lad in all the fleet and, social class apart of course, made a perfect match for the captain’s daughter Josephine, played by Ben Irish.  Although his many asides and adopted feminine mannerisms were a constant source of delight, he still managed to capture the pathos of Josephine’s predicament beautifully, while his soaring and seemingly untiring falsetto singing was truly remarkable.

In last night’s performance, the role of Captain Corcoran was played with great bravura by cover Paul McDowell, who, from the outset achieved a close rapport with his audience. The perfectly synchronised hand and arm movements and gymnastic choreography that were such a feature of his opening number “I am the Captain of the Pinafore” helped make it one of the highlights of the evening.

hmspinaforeHis opposite number, Buttercup, was played by David McKechnie, a master (mistress?) of comic timing and flirtatiousness. I loved his transformation from brawny sailor to poor little Buttercup, achieved with few accessories but consummate skill.  His duet with Corcoran towards the start of Act II, “Things are seldom what they seem”, was another undoubted highlight.
The production made the very most of the diminutive Michael Burgen whose pompous portrayal of Sir Joseph Porter was both highly polished and great fun – he reminded me of an overgrown “Just William” on more than one occasion – while Richard Russell Edwards and James Waud made the very most of their supporting roles of Hebe and Dick Deadeye – some delightful feminine mannerisms from the former and a truly sinister performance from the latter.

The ensemble voices were rich and well balanced, both in their natural range and when singing in falsetto, and the highly physical dance routines were simply tremendous.  Altogether, it was an impressive production and all achieved by relatively simple means. Male to female transformations were largely managed with a quick change of shorts and the odd bit of lingerie while the set only really consisted three bunk beds and a length of rope. The lighting was minimal too, but highly effective nonetheless, no more so than in the second act with the clever use of torches in “Carefully on tiptoe stealing”.

In a production such as this, team work is everything, and it was abundantly clear that everyone on board was having just as much fun as the audience.

Pinafore runs at Bath until Saturday 4th June as part of a three month national tour.


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