H.M.S. Pinafore

Wed 16th – Fri 18th November 2011

reviews

Alex Fisher

at 02:11 on 17th Nov 2011

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When it was first written, HMS Pinafore was a huge success drawing attention from our good friends across the pond and pleasing the punters in old London town. The songs are resonating, tons of light humour and many contemporary references to do with class – one can’t help but think Gilbert is plagiarising his old friend T.W. Robertson and his fine play ‘Caste’ when watching Pinafore. Yes, the show has everything one should want. However, the success of this particular showing of Gilbert and Sullivan’s piece is limited. It oscillates endlessly between hitting the nail on the head and missing it completely which resulted in an over-riding sense of ambivalence.

One of my gripes about modern theatre is actors speaking too quickly – it is absolutely imperative that every single syllable and consonant must be enunciated in order for the character to be heard and understood by the audience and it is logical to note that as the pace of speech increases, clarity diminishes. Granted, the tempo of the music in Pinafore is rather fast-paced and therefore one is compelled to speak quickly but this does not rule out enunciation. Frequently, the “easy to follow” narrative was lost due to poor articulation.

Also, the set was largely unimaginative. I understand that the Moser theatre is not a large space but more could have been done in order to enliven it. Moreover, so much of the action was set towards the back of the stage. Whether this was because the lights were not set closer to the audience, directorial decision or both I felt there was a rather large, permanent gap between actor and spectator which was highly noticeable.

Overall, the female performers were much better than the men. Sarah Hendriks' rendition of Mrs Sheila “Buttercup” Cripps was uplifting, her voice something to be admired. Added to this, Breanna Blaschke’s (Josephine) vocals were remarkable and put to good effect. Although, her constant flitting between contempt, sorrow and joy was not always believable, to portray such a range of emotion in quick succession would be difficult for any actor.

The males on the other hand were not as pleasing. Rupert Cunningham (Boatswain) was unable to hold an accent – a bizarre amalgamation of north Yorkshire and neutrality that was distinctly out of place in the Portsmouth dockyard. Timothy Laurio (Captain Corcoran) was a continual source for comedy and had a fine singing voice. On the other hand, Heinrich Hartmann (Ralph Rackstraw) initially showed promise. His entrance from the back of the auditorium, shattering the illusion of the fourth wall, was a nice touch and his singing (with a distinct vibrato it must be said) was adequate. Even when there was no music, his voice was strangely melodic and rather puzzling. However, his relationship with Breanna was largely unbelievable – Breanna played it well looking lovingly at him whereas Heinrich looked into middle distance with a faint smile on his face.

Aside from this, notable performances were given by Edward Thomson (Sir Joseph Porter) and Ryan McLeod (Dick Deadeye). Thomson did well to undermine our initial supposition of what the Admiral should be like, presenting instead a desk-bound clerk who had never been to sea. McLeod’s stooped walk and general pessimism was a point of humour for all. When the whole cast were on stage, the singing was superb – powerful and harmonised and as a result this gave it a real professional quality. However, in the moments where it was pure dialogue and no music, the play was flat which always made the songs a welcome relief – no wonder there was applause after each one.

On that note, a large round of applause must be given to Bethan Griffiths (Musical Director) and April Ross (Pianist) for their stunning work on the production. Their intensity, focus and elegance when playing occasionally made them more entertaining to watch than the action on stage. Although it was their first time in a Gilbert and Sullivan show, they showed great competence and were a real asset.

All in all, despite the occasional uplifting moment, HMS Pinafore presented me with a distinctly average piece of theatre. It must be noted that many were first-timers to the Gilbert and Sullivan arena and I sincerely hope that their performances will improve with experience.

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