Star rating: *****
Gilbert & Sullivan have long been a favourite of mine and I had yet to see a production of HMS Pinafore. My first experience of the opera coincided with my first experience of watching Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company and I am happy to report that it was unforgettable for all of the right reasons.
The story is straight forward, essentially a love story aboard a ship – with all of the love matches inappropriate for many reasons, but they seem to fit in a quirky way. There’s Captain Corcoran (Toby Stafford-Allen) who is hoping that his daughter Josephine (Emma Walsh) will marry The Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, KCB (Richard Gauntlett) – but she is in love with Able Seaman Ralph Rackstraw (Nicholas Sales), who is low beneath her station. Mrs Cripps aka Little Buttercup (Mae Heydorn) is a bumboat who is lusting after the Captain, and he hankers after her in return. Then there’s Sir Joseph of course, who is flanked by his cousins and his sisters and his aunts and particularly adored by Cousin Hebe (Katie Grosset). Throw in an ensemble of sailors and cousins and sisters and aunts and you’ve got yourself a recipe for fun, frolics, mayhem and madcap adventures. All ably assisted by the National Gilbert & Sullivan Orchestra who are resplendent in their capturing of the famous score.
The production is a joy from start to finish and flawless to boot, the vocals of the ensemble alone are pitch perfect and their comic timing is on point. Mae Heydorn is wonderfully witty and engaging as Little Buttercup, her duet, ‘Things Are Seldom What They Seem’, with Toby Stafford-Allen as Captain Corcoran was one of the highlights of the show for me personally. Stafford-Allen was also superbly cast as the Captain, upright, uptight and unrelenting. Emma Walsh was beautifully gentile as his daughter, Josephine and her vocal ability is remarkable. Nicholas Sales makes quite the dashing sailor in the role of Ralph Rackstraw as he loses his heart to the Captain’s daughter. Katie Grosset as Cousin Hebe gave a brilliantly comedic performance and drew my attention throughout. The stand-out performance came from Richard Gauntlett as Sir Joseph, from his tone of voice to his physical comedy, he gave everything to the role and provided many, many laugh out loud moments during the course of the show. Simon Wilding’s Dick Deadeye was also revolting, imposing and pitiful in equal measure, a great character.
From ‘We Sail The Ocean Blue’ to ‘Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen’, the story was regaled in rousing, hilarious fashion and against a glorious nautical backdrop. I can’t recommend the National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company highlight enough, I will be sure to catch them as many times as possible in the future. They provide the audience with the best possible rendition of the well-known duo’s work.