H.M.S. Pinafore

Apr 5 2023 | By More

★★★★☆   Works beautifully

Bedlam: Tue 4 – Fri 7 April 2023
Review by Allan Wilson.

Edinburgh University’s Savoy Opera Group’s latest production brings a new approach to HMS Pinafore, one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular comic operas.

Having directed four previous versions with the traditional Victorian warship setting, director Fraser Grant describes in the programme notes how he has reimagined the production as a ‘nautical cabaret … simplifying the set and adding some high kicks’. Almost surprisingly, it actually works beautifully.

Gemima Iseka-Bekano with members of the HMS Pinafore cast. Pic: Izzy Ponsford

As the excellent band, conducted by Falk Meier, begins the overture from an alcove just off stage, individual sailors take their places along a row of nine wooden chairs, making final adjustments to their make up as they playfully interact.

Soon the chairs are moved to the side of the stage and the sailors begin the opening song, We sail the ocean blue, accompanied by an energetic and acrobatic hornpipe, incorporating elements from other dance forms. The ensemble work is excellent, as it is throughout the show.

pantomime villain

The key characters are introduced over the opening scenes. Little Buttercup, a dockside vendor with an important secret, is played by Gemima Iseka-Bekano in a beautifully sultry contralto voice. Owen Hatch’s slightly camp, but heroic, Ralph Rackstraw joins his fellow sailors and confesses his love for the Captain’s daughter, Josephine, in a beautiful rendering of The Nightingale.

The other sailors are generally supportive, but suggest that there is little hope of success. The one exception is a scornful Dick Deadeye, played by Felix Foote, clearly relishing his role as the pantomime villain.

The HMS Pinafore cast. Pic: Izzy Ponsford

The popular Captain Corcoran (well played by Harry Lempriere-Johnston) comes on board and greets his crew with warmth and politeness, claiming that he never (well, hardly ever) uses bad language. He tells Buttercup of his hopes that his daughter will marry Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty.

When Josephine, beautifully played by Hannah Brown, arrives she admits that she has fallen in love with a humble sailor from his crew, but as she is a dutiful daughter she will never reveal her feelings to the sailor.

pomposity and verve

Sir Joseph Porter, skilfully portrayed with pomposity and verve by Charles Barber, describes how he rose to become ruler of the “Queen’s nayvee” to a circle of admirers seated around him. He gives a lesson in etiquette and emphasises that a British sailor is any man’s equal (except his).

Encouraged by this, Ralph eloquently confesses his love for Josephine, but she haughtily rejects him. A devastated Ralph threatens to kill himself with a pistol, only to be stopped by Josephine who finally admits that she does love him and they agree to elope together.

Hannah Brown and Owen Hatch with members of the HMS Pinafore cast. Pic: Izzy Ponsford

The opening of the second act departs from the usual plot with a witty scene involving Sir Joseph, Captain Corcoran, Josephine and Sir Joseph’s cousin, Hebe, nicely portrayed by Mackenzie Rian Perry, seated around a table, enjoying a meal, served by Ralph.

Sir Joseph later tells Captain Corcoran of his disappointment that Josephine has not yet agreed to marry him, to which the Captain suggests that she may be dazzled by his exalted rank and wonders if he might persuade her that love levels all ranks. Josephine has been swithering between choosing reason and a life of luxury and food from Waitrose with Sir Joseph, or love and poverty with Ralph.

a great sense of fun

When Sir Joseph uses the Captain’s argument with Josephine she says that she will “hesitate no longer” and prepares to elope with Ralph. The lovers are discovered as they try to leave the ship and Ralph is put in chains. At this point, Buttercup returns to the ship and reveals her big secret, allowing the leading characters to find their correct partner and to celebrate a happy ending.

The Savoy Opera Group present HMS Pinafore as a comedy of status and manners, underpinned by secrets and lies. The performance is full of energy, enthusiasm and a great sense of fun. The ensemble work is impressive and the lead characters show genuine talent in their approaches to songs that are very familiar.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with a 20 minute interval)
Bedlam Theatre, 11B Bristo Place, EH1 1EZ.
Tue 4 – Fri 7 April 2023
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Mackenzie Rian Perry, Gemima Iseka-Bekano, Harry Lempriere-Johnston, Hannah Brown, Owen Hatch, Charles Barber and Felix Foote. Pic: Izzy Ponsford


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