Sasha Regan’s All-Male HMS Pinafore [Union Theatre]

HMS Pinafore or The Lass That Loved a Sailor
Comic opera with lyrics by W. S. Gilbert and music by Arthur Sullivan

Josephine – Bex Roberts
Hebe – Richard Russell Edwards
Buttercup – Ciarán O’Driscoll
Ralph – Tom Senior
Captain – Benjamin Vivian-Jones
Dick Deadeye – Lee Van Geleen
Sir Joseph Porter – David McKechnie
Carpenter – Tommy Knapp
Boatswain – Alex Beaumont
Ensemble of Sailors, Marines, Sisters, Cousins & Aunts – Julian Gonçalves, Shane Landers, John Sandberg, Benjamin Wong, Jordan Ramroop, Will Keith & Jacob Baumila

Chris Mundy – Musical Director & piano

Sasha Regan – Director
Lizzi Gee – Choreographer
Michael England – Musical Supervisor
Ryan Dawson-Laight – Designer
Tim Deiling – Lighting Designer

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 3 November, 2013
Venue: Union Theatre, Southwark, London

HMS Pinafore, Union Theatre. Photograph: www.uniontheatre.bizThe popularity of Gilbert & Sullivan remains undimmed. Although their subject matter is frequently timeless, it is often set in their celebrated topsy-turvy world that bears no relation to life as it was lived in their heyday or indeed as it is lived now. Their sense of humour has survived for over a century, even if at times some of us find it hard to swallow. HMS Pinafore, written in 1878, has many of the G&S hallmarks – a captain’s daughter, Josephine, is in love with a common sailor, Ralph Rackstraw, even though her father, Captain Corcoran, wishes her to marry Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Corcoran confides in Buttercup, a dockside seller of goods to the crew, who has her own secret to impart. The satirical barbs strike at social and class differences as commoners hobnob with the nobility.

Despite, or because of, having no qualifications as the ruler of the Queen’s Navy, Sir Joseph supports equality in all matters. This heartens young Ralph to declare his love for his Captain’s daughter. Intent on obeying her father’s orders to marry Sir Joseph, Josephine spurns Ralph, until he threatens to shoot himself. She relents and they plan to elope. It is not until poor little Buttercup comes up to prove that Ralph is high-born and that the Captain is commoner, does the plot resolve into a happy ending.

Sasha Regan has previously put a gloss on G&S by presenting them in all-male productions. The Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe and Patience all worked very well in that the humour was given an extra level but without resorting to anything overtly camp. Perhaps by their very nature, single-sex productions have a touch of camp about them. Regan herself was involved in G&S presentations at her girls-only school and all-male productions were mounted by the inmates of German prison camps during World War Two.

For this male-dominated HMS Pinafore many of the performers at the Union are blessed with fine falsetto voices, so that Bex Roberts as Josephine, Richard Russell Edwards as Sir Joseph’s first cousin Hebe, and Ciarán O’Driscoll as Buttercup are all totally convincing playing ladies without any hint that they are men in drag. The excellent ensemble provides a chorus of sisters, cousins and aunts as well as some ever-so-butch sailors and mariners.

The piece opens with the sailors aboard Pinafore stirring into action, the Captain putting them through their paces. There are some nifty gymnastics to applaud as the men show their strengths through Lizzi Gee’s athletic choreography. As usual in the Union’s tiny playing area, everything seems to fit. Benjamin Vivian-Jones’s Captain is a stickler for accuracy and politeness as he welcomes his gallant crew. David McKechnie as Sir Joseph is a boastful old buffer to whom Josephine takes an instant dislike. You can see why she would prefer young Ralph, for whom Tom Senior provides a wide-eyed, unworldly innocent in love. Ciarán O’Driscoll’s mournful Buttercup is a sad and lonely creature as she sells her wares but even she eventually finds an ideal partner.

Sasha Regan’s production is sharp and to the point while Chris Mundy’s accompaniment keeps up the tempo of this fast-moving show. It proves to be a refreshing gloss on the old D’Oyly Carte production-style of yesteryear which kept the works of G&S in aspic for decades. The Union manages to convince even this curmudgeon of a reviewer who is usually no great G&S fan that there is still a lot of life and a good deal of fun in Sullivan’s music and Gilbert’s lyrics.

  • HS Pinafore is at the Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, Southwark, London SE1 until Saturday 30 November 2013
  • Tuesday to Saturday 7.30 p.m., matinees Saturday & Sunday 2.30
  • It will transfer to the Hackney Empire from 15 to 23 February 2014; 020 8985 2424
  • Union Theatre tickets 020 7261 9876

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