Thursday, 18 April 2019

The topsyturvydom effervesced: HMS Pinafore from Charles Court Opera

Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore - Joseph Shovelton, Hannah Crerar, Jennie Jacobs, Alys Roberts, Catrine Kirkman, Matthew Kellett - Charles Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore - Joseph Shovelton, Hannah Crerar, Jennie Jacobs, Alys Roberts, Catrine Kirkman, Matthew Kellett - Charles Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Gilbert & Sullivan HMS Pinafore; Joseph Shovelton, Matthew Palmer, Philip Lee, Matthew Kellett, Alys Roberts, Jennie Jacobs, John Savournin, David Eaton; Charles Court Opera at the King's Head Reviewed by Anthony Evnas on 16 April 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Charles Court Opera returns to the King's Head with more topsyturvydom

Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore - Matthew Kellett - Charles Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore - Matthew Kellett -
Charles Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Tuesday 16 April saw Charles Court Opera return to the King’s Head Theatre with their latest take on Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. Sullivan’s joyous tunesmithery with its musical japes is a perennial favourite with audiences and, not surprisingly, a sold-out crowd squeezed into the King’s Head to see a cast of eight strut their stuff. Joseph Shovelton was Sir Joseph Porter and Matthew Palmer, Captain Corcoran. Philip Lee and Alys Roberts were the young lovers Ralph Rackstraw and Josephine, whilst Matthew Kellett and Hannah Crerar were Able Seamen Dick Deadeye and Bobstay. Catrine Kirkman was cousin Hebe and Jennie Jacobs doubled as Sir Joseph’s sister and Little Buttercup. It was directed by John Savournin.

Back in the day taking aim at the navy with this quintessentially English parody of a nautical melodrama would have tickled the fancy with “quaint suggestions” and “unexpected whimsicality”, gently poking fun at social mores. It’s a country mile from today’s satirical asperity.

Contemporary audiences would have been all too familiar with William Henry Smith or Pinafore Smith as he became known, the inspiration for Sir Joseph and the conventions of melodrama with its tales of secrets, solecisms and switched identities. It reassuringly comforted and amused in equal measure. We don’t need reassurances about the status quo these days and even if you’re au fait, some of the language is a stretch; Jacky, polony and soft tommy are a mystery (gin, sausage and soft bread since you ask).

So, how to approach this beloved behemoth? Rachel Szmukler’s designs tantalizingly transported us onto the good ship Yellow Submarine which looked rather handsome with its psychedelic colour palette and 60s couture, and I had high hopes that the director would play fast and loose with the text. What on earth would the bum-boat Buttercup have in her bag? John Savournin clearly thinks Gilbert’s inkslinging stands on its own merits. It’s the farce that plays out better after all.

Relying on farce, though, is a double-edged sword. You can’t disguise the comedy longuers when the rhythm and energy falter no matter how elegant or winsome the singing. Thankfully with the energies of Matthew Kellett a dastardly and odiferous looking Dick Deadeye, Joseph Shovelton as the grinning dolt of a First Lord ‘Bernie Winters’ and the madcap Catrine Kirkman the piece sparkled. When they picked up the ball and ran with it the topsyturvydom effervesced and it was big D good indeed.

Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore - Hannah Crerar, Matthew Palmer, Philip Lee, Joseph Shovelton, Jennie Jacobs, Alys Roberts. - Charles Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore - Hannah Crerar, Matthew Palmer, Philip Lee, Joseph Shovelton, Jennie Jacobs, Alys Roberts. - Charles Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
H.M.S. Pinafore
Charles Court Opera
King’s Head Theatre
Tuesday 16 April 2019
Sir Joseph Porter : Joseph Shovelton
Captain Corcoran : Matthew Palmer
Ralph Rackstraw : Philip Lee
Dick Deadeye : Matthew Kellett
Able Seaman Bobstay : Hannah Crerar
Josephine : Alys Roberts
Cousin Hebe : Catrine Kirkman
Little Buttercup / Sir Joseph’s sister : Jennie Jacobs
Director : John Savournin
Musical Director : David Eaton

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