Writer: W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
Director: John Savournin
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
There’s a bounce and bit of mischief running through this colourful production that makes it impossible not to love. From Buttercup’s sweet sassiness to the jolly-sailor patter of the crew, it’s all just hugely entertaining – highlighting the ridiculousness of the situation even more than other productions that play it sort-of straight.
This fantastic G&S opera is one of the pair’s finest examples of a skewer for the Victorian fetishisation of duty and honour. On board the H.M.S. Pinafore the captain, his dutiful crew and his gallant daughter Josephine receive the First Lord of the Admiralty and his sister and his cousin (and his aunt, in a way) so the Lord can propose marriage to Josephine. Able seaman Ralph Rackstraw loves Josephine, and she him, so storm clouds gather and events turn rough for some.
The production really makes a point about the notions of class and equality, bringing these issues right to the fore and maintaining a serious face when discussing them – in contrast to the light clowning that accompanies much else. It serves to highlight how ridiculous and unfair the process to power and high-status can be, with this Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, among the most best specimens of this character (for the purpose of illustrating this grim situation) out there. Adding Hannah Crerar as a female Bobstay is also a great bit of casting, not just to add a woman to the navy to better reflect a modern service, but because she was a fantastic performer – shining in a fairly low-key role.
Philip Lee as Rackstraw was charming to watch – singing clear as a ship’s bell and nailing his solo pieces with emotion and empathy. As Cousin Hebe, Catrine Kirkman injects a madcap energy that the rest of the show fed off, and Matthew Kellett made a fine snarling villain with something human at his core.
The set and costumes are stars in their own rights – thanks to Rachel Szmukler we’re all in an actual yellow submarine! It’s all neatly wrapped with fine musical performances from the cast – with Philip Lee, as noted, Hannah Crerar, and Matthew Palmer as Captain Corcoran as stand-outs. It feels loose and flowing but this is a tightly knit production – well choreographed and sharply designed. Another great show from Charles Court Opera.
Runs until 11 May 2019 | Image: Robert Workman