MusicalNorth WestOperaReview

HMS Pinafore – The Lowry, Salford

Libretto: W.S. Gilbert
Music: Arthur Sullivan
Director: Sasha Regan
Choreographer: Lizzi Gee
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham

The comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan are known for being witty, with gorgeous tunes, social satire and tongue-twisting lyrics. No one would ever say that they were authentic. Really, therefore, the concept of an all-maleproduction of HMS Pinafore should not be controversial and that is the approach taken by director Sasha Regan who behaves as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

Sasha Regan’s all-male HMS Pinafore takes inspiration from real-life situations, World War 11 prison camps or single sex schools, where the occupants, due to their extreme circumstances, are compelled to make their own entertainment including playing roles other than their own sex. The production is set on a World War 11 battleship in which the crew seek distraction from forthcoming conflict by staging the comic opera HMS Pinafore.

Lizzi Gee’s cheerful and bright chorography reflects the military setting. Hints of naval signals and military manoeuvres appear in the dance routines. Essentially it captures the camaraderie of the officers marching together and working in unison.

There is an atmosphere of pulling together and making do in a time of scant resources. The set is basic – just a trio of bunk beds supplemented by the occasional prop. On occasions the lighting is little more than a series of torches flickering around the stage. All expense has been spared for the orchestra, which comprises just musical director Richard Bates at the piano. This is, however, a subtle way of proving the quality of the cast. As they cannot hide behind the volume of a full orchestra the cast have to get it right every time – which they achieve with almost casual confidence.

Despite the audacious concept Regan takes a respectful approach to the source material. No cuts to the opera are apparent and the temptation to go for cheap laughs by adding to the libretto is resisted. This is not to say, however, that the production is politically correct. Ben Irish and David McKechnie as, respectively, Josephine and Little Buttercup are very much masculine sailors camping it up. When they step out of character they shake off their roles and offer a hearty handshake to their shipmates.

The singing is of very high quality. The cast, in female roles, hit falsetto notes with apparent ease apart from when Ben Irish, for comic purposes, misses the note.

W.S. Gilbert is known for social satire and, at a time when the UK is becoming an increasingly divided society, it would have been easy for Sasha Regan to slip in some glib comparisons with the current grim situation. Instead this charming production takes a more considered position proving how, at times of stress, humour and great songs can go a long way to easing concerns.

Runs until 16July 2016 | Image: Roy Tan

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