All Male HMS Pinafore
Tuesday 14 June 2016
Sasha Regan’s all male HMS Pinafore is a delightfully frivolous and unexpectedly moving night at the theatre Despite the ornate and plush décor of the Richmond Theatre, this production is sparse, inventive and never fussy. With three iron bunkbeds, six mess boxes, some rope, and a lot of imagination, the ensemble weave the splendidly silly tale of love and social politics, staying largely loyal to Gilbert’s ridiculous libretto and Sullivan’s catchy score. This is a polished and artfully executed production, and worth the trip out to Richmond.
Having produced a similarly re-imagined Pirates of Penzance and Mikado, this revival which toured extensively in 2014 confirms that Regan has hit upon a winning formula: Handsome, talented boys sending up the already absurd plots of G&S whilst singing beautifully. It works. With short-shorts and knee-socks aplenty, the laughter in the audience rang out building to a dizzy joyful elation leaving us with a happy post-show glow. After Orlando HMS Pinafore feels particularly vital as a testimony to the freedom of expression that the theatre itself stands for. Its tender moments played with men opposite one another feel very poignant in the wake of this tragedy perpetrated against the LGBTQ+ community.
There is so much to praise in HMS Pinafore but my favourite performance of the night was that of Neil Moors as Captain Corcoran. He truly encapsulated the wild-eyed zany zeal G&S requires and took as many liberties as possible breaking the fourth wall to wink and moue much to the delight of the audience. Richard Russell Edwards provided numerous moments of outstanding business with his pitch-perfect slapstick and beautifully timed comedy. The lovers Tom Senior and Ben Irish as Ralph and Josephine respectively provided the (ironically straight) warm heart around which the others could clown, and David McKechnie as Buttercup lent the cast the class and finesse of a seasoned performer.
There was superb musical direction by Richard Bates who wrings much out of the often repetitive melodies and provides many a joke with cheeky flourishes referencing popular culture. My only criticism might be the broad American vowels with which some of the cast sing. The twang feels rather incongruous in an operetta that reflects on what it is “to be an Englishman.” Personally, I prefer my counter-tenors and tenors with (and I think the music lends itself to) a much less manufactured and purer choral sound.
This HMS Pinafore asks us to reflect on a society that has changed considerably, but must keep evolving and continuing to examine itself. Gilbert’s jeering satire of a Victorian society obsessed with class and hierarchy doesn’t seem a million miles away from the problems young people still face in modern Britain. If it’s not your class, it’s your ethnicity, or your gender, or your career that people will try and define you by. However, these exceptional performers show with grace and humour that how we are perceived can be changed effortlessly with a different scarf angle or a tactical hair toss. Lizzi Gee’s choreography facilitates these transitions beautifully, and the seemingly conventional audience demographic of Richmond loved every second.