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Review HMS Pinafore (Opera Della Luna)

Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1878 comic opera comes to St. George’s Hall, Bradford

With the sometimes dozens of theatre visits we make each month, things can start to all look and sound the same. In that respect, Gilbert and Sullivan’s oft-revived HMS Pinafore is a breath of fresh sea air. Whilst comic opera may not exactly be in vogue with the younger audiences, we’re actually quite partial to a bit of light opera having particularly enjoyed Opera North’s production of Ruddigore earlier this year.

HMS Pinafore is a story about the class system of the day, as told aboard the Pinafore – a big butch warship with a girly name. Pinafore is full of contradictions and gentle jabs at the institution, with a healthy dose of humour – a lot of which is actually still rather amusing.

Ralph Rickstraw (Trevor Jary) is in love with the Captain’s daughter Josephine (Rhona McKail) who returns his love, but is desired by the (very overtly gay) First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Joseph Porter (Philip Cox). The plot is very straight forward and this version with its many cuts could be equally as enjoyed by children as adults. This production does a decent job at times of updating, but not too much, the adventures of the weird and wonderful crew of the Pinafore in this shortened two hour version. However, despite fairly high production values, the singing is at times poor with one major, shining exception.

Rhona McKail is simply outstanding as Josephine. McKail’s soprano was flawless and perfectly suited to the material, she sang comfortably throughout her range and her highest notes were a joy to behold.

It is not unfair to say we regularly see inferior vocalists who make careers as recital singers – in this production McKail shone like a diamond in the rough and it is not hard to see her really going places in her career. We both commented that she would be equally as well suited to the heavier roles in musical theatre and would make a wonderful Christine in The Phantom of the Opera as an example. Elsewhere in the cast, Philip Cox does quite well and gets more than a few laughs as Sir. Joseph, but again as with most of the cast, his singing was less than exemplary.

The production itself is of a good standard. Joined onstage by a clutch of actor-musicians (well, musicians wearing costumes) the cast occasionally perform menial changes to the set such as the tying of ropes and other requisite seafaring nonsense. Jeff Clarke’s direction is quite shaky at times, unsure whether to ham things up or play it straight, we are left somewhat undecided in the middle. In my opinion, Gilbert and Sullivan has to be one extreme or the other – a ridiculous farce from start to finish and to hell with the singing – or very stern faced proper singing of silly material. Aside from McKail, the vocals were underwhelming at best, which was easily this production’s biggest problem.

On the whole, this Pinafore is an average production brought to life by McKail’s starring turn; without her, one can’t help but feel we’d never need to return. What, never? Well, hardly ever.

Dickie and Butch saw HMS Pinafore at St. George’s Hall on 8th November. Read their blog at www.dickieandbutch.com

Posted on Friday 19th November 2010

St George's Hall

Bridge Street, Bradford, BD1 1JS

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