HMS Pinafore

Mar 22 2018 | By More

★★★★☆   Hits the heights

King’s Theatre: Tue 20 – Sat 24 March 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin

There is a strong musicality and big professional polish to EdGAS’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore which is at the King’s Theatre until Saturday.

And any company which casts Gillian Robertson as its Josephine is always going to be hitting the high notes in more ways that one.

The cast of HMS Pinafore. Pic: Ross Main

Yet under Alan Borthwick’s direction, it is a production which reminds you just what a strange fish Pinafore is, as it swings into rampant English nationalist flag waving of a kind which, while not exactly xenophobic, is not ameliorated – or even turned to satire – with the brief appearance of a cheeky Saltire waving Scot.

On the other hand it has, in Simon Boothroyd’s portrayal of Sir Joseph Porter, first Lord of the Admiralty, a character so pompous, incompetent and flagrantly ignorant of his own job that he is surely the theatrical embodiment of Boris Johnston.

Gilbert’s libretto concerns Captain Corcoran, commanding officer of the HMS Pinafore and much loved by the seamen under his command. His daughter Josephine is the object of Sir Joseph’s affections, but has, herself, fallen for a sailor Ralph Rackstraw on her father’s ship – feelings which he returns.

It is in this romantic rivalry that the main comedy of the piece resides as it satirises the rigid English class system where everyone has a place and none may move from it.

convincingly obsequious

Ralph and Josephine’s concern is that he is too lowly born for their match to be accepted, despite their love for each other. Chris Cotter is a convincingly obsequious Ralph while Gillian Robertson plays Josephine as one who knows her own mind but is conflicted by her equal knowledge of her own station.

Simon Boothroyd and Jennifer Murray (cousin Hebe). Pic: Ross Main


Fortunately for them both, Sir Joseph is concerned that it is his own exalted position that is putting Josephine off his pursuit of her, so convinces her that love levels all, and that she need not worry about any difference of status in her choice of husband.

Gilbert’s other object of satire is the dramatic conventions of the day, although this is perhaps lost on modern audiences and is more a call for a wry grin than an outright belly laugh. In this he is joined by Sullivan whose score parodies operatic conventions – and there can be no complaints of the company on this regard.

Musical director David Lyle extracts a great sense of purpose and lovely clean sound from the pit, without ever overpowering the performers on the stage. Not that even a mighty philharmonic orchestra is likely to do that to Gillian Robertson who, you feel, is allowing her voice to work well within its capacity – while appearing to hit every note with casual ease.

Nor does show overpower her fellow singers, who seem to come up to her level in their duets. Notably Chris Cotter’s Ralph, who does not have the fullest of timbres in his arias, but who proves a perfectly acceptable duetist.

hugely comic staging

Robertson’s trio with Boothroyd’s Sir Joseph and Michael McFarlane as Captain Corcoran in Never mind the why and wherefore is equally strong. And is given a hugely comic staging by Borthwick, who draws on several popular TV shows to add to the laughs, while giving Boothroyd free reign on his abilities as a physical comic.

Gillian Robertson. Pic: Ross Main.

EdGAS is a company which knows how to make the best use of its not inconsiderable assets. A cast of almost 60 ensures that, when a chorus is called for, the auditorium is filled with sound. The male chorus have most to do as jolly sailors, but the female chorus clearly enjoy their turns as Sir Joseph’s assorted sisters, cousins and aunts.

And, despite the unbridled jingoism of He is An Englishman (complete with the kind of flag waving that gives the last night of the proms a bad name), this is a production which ensures that its audience will enjoy it as much.

Running time Two hours and 20 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Tuesday 20 – Saturday 24 March 2018
Daily at 7.30 pm; Saturday matinee 2.30 pm
Tickets and details:


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