Review by Hannah Fredriksson
I’ve been excited to see H.M.S. Pinafore since the first time I’d heard of it - through the Simpsons of course; the place where many millennials first learned of things that were popular before their time. Many years ago I remember Bart Simpson convincing Sideshow Bob to sing the entire score of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic in order to bide time and foil Bob’s plans. I’m delighted to say I’ve now seen my first full production of it, and it lived up to the hype.
First opened in 1878, the comic opera came to be one of the most popular of the duo’s works. In true Gilbert & Sullivan fashion, the plot includes class struggles, star-crossed lovers, and bumbling politicians, yet at the end there is always some legal loophole that allows the couples to proceed unfettered, and all is well with the world again.
In this case, the Captain of the Pinafore’s daughter Josephine is in love with Ralph Rackshaw, a lowly seaman who is below her station, though her father has promised her to Sir Joseph Porter, the first Lord of the Admiralty who is always accompanied by a doting entourage of his sisters, cousins and aunts. Little Buttercup is enamoured with the Captain herself, yet he is above her station. After Josephine and Ralph attempt to steal ashore to elope, Buttercup reveals that Ralph and the Captain were accidentally switched at birth by none other than herself (oops!) and they immediately accept their new stations, which now mean their loves are no longer above or below their own stations. And to tie it all together, Sir Joseph Porter agrees to marry his loyal Cousin Hebe.
For this production by the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Western Australia, Director Paul Treasure has masterfully highlighted the comedic moments in this production through well-timed physical comedy, exaggerated expressions and the elevation of the role of Cousin Hebe. The liberty was also taken to extend action into the side balconies of the Dolphin Theatre.
The set was effective and immersive in its simplicity; built up to represent the deck of a ship with a door to the cabin quarters, simply painted steel grey with black contrast edging, allowing the cast and crew in brightly coloured 50’s style costumes to pop.
Among the brightest of these was Belinda Butler, who played a glamorous Little Buttercup, an entrepreneurial business woman who true to her name was donned head to toe in sunshine yellow. Belinda is a regular on the stage of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of WA, and has shown versatility through her various roles, including a distinctly different version of Little Buttercup. The 50s style of this production has allowed the character to be portrayed akin to a fabulous Avon or Tupperware lady. As always Belinda demonstrates comical facial expressions and delivers the contralto part effortlessly.
Emily Schinkel as Cousin Hebe was an immense source of joy for me in this production. The consistent snobby exasperation was truly divine, and provided many of the moments of physical comedy. Her delivery of “crushed again!” may indeed find it’s way into my own vernacular.
Heather Mackay portrayed the Captain’s daughter Josephine with endearing poise and grace. She reached amazing heights with the soprano role.
David Cosgrove played Sir Joseph Porter KCB with a whimsical pompousness. This character was portrayed with a lisp, admittedly I’m not sure if this is standard but it was a humorous decision that added to the character’s silliness nonetheless.
Ian Lawrence makes his debut in the world of Gilbert and Sullivan as Captain Corcoran. Chad Henderson plays Ralph Rackstraw, Josephine’s love interest and the man with which Captain Corcoran was switched at birth. Both men adapt to playing the high-ranking captain and the middle-class seaman with ease and feel natural in both roles.
Steve Sherwood plays a humorously disheveled Dick Deadeye, in direct contrast to his previous experience in official and military-type roles in other Gilbert and Sullivan productions. He does a wonderful job at appearing disgruntled and attempting to foil Josephine and Ralph’s plans to elope.
Zac Porter has previously played a role in the chorus of Gilbert and Sullivan Society of WA productions, and now makes his debut as a more prominent character. He does a brilliant job of maintaining a cockney accent for the performance, and has wonderful comedic timing.
1878 was a vastly different time and it’s difficult to believe now that two men switched at birth would just accept the life of the other because someone said so with no questions asked, and the ages of everyone involved in romantic relationships seem a bit free and loose, but aside from that the production remains to this day an excellent example of the whimsical joy and humour of Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Director Paul Treasure, musical director Izaak Wesson and the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of WA deliver another wonderfully amusing interpretation of a beloved classic.