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Review: ‘HMS Pinafore’ by Bristol University Operatic Society (BOpS)

Io Limmer managed to marry their two great passions: Star Trek and Gilbert & Sullivan. And the final result certainly does not disappoint.

By Milan Perera, Arts Critic Columnist

“Bold, brilliant and riotously funny” 

Milan Perera 

Io Limmer excelled again in creating a scintillating production of ‘HMS Pinafore’, originally composed by Arthur Sullivan and written by William Gilbert, with the help of a brilliant cast, who responded to the director’s bold vision with style.

Io Limmer managed to marry their two great passions: Star Trek and Gilbert & Sullivan. And the final result certainly does not disappoint. It is where Captain Kirk meets Captain Corcoran. Instead of ship decks and sailor hats we are taken to the main control room of a spaceship with pulsating lights on the cabin walls.

In the quintessential Gilbert & Sullivan fashion ‘HMS Pinafore’ is brimming with foot-tapping tunes and witty recitatives. Underneath the fun and frivolity there lies a cutting social satire where not even the “high and mighty” of the society were spared. It is a little-known fact that the character of Sir Joseph Porter KCB was loosely based on the Conservative politician William Henry Smith who was elevated to the First Lord of the Admiralty under Disraeli, the year before the premiere of ‘HMS Pinafore’, who then threatened William Gilbert with a lawsuit.

The story revolves around the decks/control room of the ship HMS Pinafore led by Captain Corcoran (James Ward) with his merry crew.

The hallowed vessel of Her Majesty receives a visit from Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, the self-stylised monarch of the sea along with his sizable entourage of sisters, cousins and aunts on a “delicate matter”. Sir Joseph wishes for Captain Corcoran’s daughter Josephine’s (Angharad Jones) hand in marriage but unbeknownst to her she has a secret admirer who is pining for her, the seaman Ralph Rackstraw (played by Lucy Ash).

Courtesy of Milan Perera 

On discovering the strength of Rackstraw’s romantic ardour, Josephine’s class superiority gets the better of her good nature. But after a chain of events, it seems that the ancient wisdom of “love conquers all” is the order of the day.

After his acclaimed performances in ‘Iolanthe’ and ‘Die Fledermaus’, it is another day at the office for James Ward, as he seems to have perfected the craft of portraying imperious characters. His towering stature and the booming, velvety bass baritone voice had him in his elements as Captain Corcoran. But what a revelation William Thompson was as Sir Joseph Porter with his deadpan humour and comedic timing and fine vocals to match. Despite his unashamed display of egalitarianism and liberality, Sir Joseph remains a pompous prig which was perfectly portrayed by Thompson.

Courtesy of Milan Perera 

The number at the entrance of Sir Joseph on the deck, “I Am the Monarch of the Sea” with his sisters, cousins and aunts, had the audience in stitches due to its neatly choreographed buffoonery, sensational singing and comedic execution. In the number “Farewell, My Own” there was an unutterable tenderness, perfectly captured by Angharad Jones and Lucy Ash where their vocal harmonies beautifully entwined like two strands in a cord.

Sean Shui excels in his assignment by playing a thoroughly reprehensible, annoying killjoy Dick Deadeye, while Lucy Coleman’s Little Buttercup won hearts with her regal presence and tender sentiments towards Captain Corcoran. After playing a majestic Fairy Queen in ‘Iolanthe’ Helen Taylor returns to the terrain of Gilbert and Sullivan with a deft portrayal as Cousin Hebe. Emma Tarmey upgrades the character of Bill Bobstay from a peripheral role to one of the main characters with her resplendent rendition of the role. Emma Heap’s chorus provides a gleaming sheen to the lively production.

Kat Dapré’s visionary and vibrant set design transposed the set to the domain of Star Trek seamlessly, while the make-up of Violet Allmark brought a veneer of authenticity and brilliance to the cast.

Courtesy of Milan Perera

The music director James Kerr conducted the evening’s proceedings with a bright and breezy air to the Arthur Sullivan’s score that filled the Pegg theatre with its sonic cascade. The chamber orchestra responded to the extraordinary task with composure and clarity.

Speaking to Epigram, the director Io Limmer was full of praise for the cast who rose to the challenge: “This show has been a great joy. I’ve been lucky enough to work with such a wonderful and talented group who were so generous with their time. We managed to go boldly where no other Gilbert and Sullivan production has gone before!”

The final number for the evening, “Oh Joy, Oh Rapture Unforeseen”, with three couples holding hands, had the entire cast belting out the tune con forza, bringing an air of jollity that filled the theatre.

Featured Image: Courtesy of Milan Perera

What did you think of HMS Pinafore?