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HMS Pinafore – Opera Anywhere | Review

Opera Anywhere was formed over twenty years ago with the aim of bringing “accessible opera not just to regular opera fans but to a wider audience of all ages”. To this end, the company performs anywhere it is asked to, including on a barge in the middle of a river. This year Mozart’s Magic Flute and Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors as well as some Gilbert and Sullivan works and operatic concerts are being toured all over the UK, including the London area.

Cast of HMS Pinafore.
Cast of HMS Pinafore.

I was lucky enough to see the company when it visited the historic St Mary’s Church in Slindon, an architectural gem of a village, nearly all built of flint, nestling in the South Downs, quite near to Arundel in deepest West Sussex. An audience of about 100 were treated to a small-scale, modern dress production of HMS Pinafore on a tiny stage erected in the nave of the church, sung and acted by, mostly, a young, professional cast.

Welsh soprano Catrin Lewis demonstrated not only a well-trained, versatile singing voice, but she also proved to be an excellent actor and dominated the stage whenever she appeared. The voice is steady as a rock with an attractive timbre and is always used at the service of the music. In the role of Josephine, who loves a humble sailor, she was utterly captivating.

The humble sailor, Ralph, was sung by Tristan Stocks, who also directed the production. Vocally, unfortunately, he sounded out of sorts, his high notes strained, but he acted convincingly in his scenes with Josephine and his direction was straightforward and often very amusing.

For me, the “star” of the show was the smallest role: that of Hebe, one of the First Sea Lord’s cousins and aunts, who has few lines to sing, and fewer still to speak, but in this part Kate Lowe certainly made her mark, always in role, always vivacious, always with a naughty twinkle in her eye, but never taking the focus from others. She clearly understood the style required and was very watchable.

Another secondary role that was well played was that of Bill Bobstay, the Boatswain. Dale Harris exhibited terrific energy as this character, and a true sense of fun, as well as demonstrating a gorgeous voice. As with Hebe, he was always in role, always exhibiting humour and that elusive sense of style.

Fairly high-born Captain Corcoran was well sung and acted by Nick Dwyer, but his uniform seemed to have been designed for a much stouter person: either that or he had recently been on a “crash” diet!

Edmund Caird in the role of “villain” Dick Deadeye enjoyed his role without sending him up, as it is very easy to do and, as with those listed above, acted and sang with gusto and style.

Also in the cast were founders of the company Vanessa Woodward (Little Buttercup), Mike Woodward (First Sea Lord Sir Joseph Porter) and Valerie Wong as the female chorus!

Excellent accompaniment was provided by Nia Williams and Nick Planer, whilst lighting, including an atmospherically lit East Window in green and blue, was by John Alcock.

This was a most enjoyable evening in a lovely venue – the sense of being welcome added to the pleasure one had in being there. The company’s website: https://operaanywhere.com/ lists the venues that the group is visiting over the next few months. Recommended!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

This is a tale of mismatched love across different social classes. Josephine is the captain’s daughter and has fallen for lowly sailor Ralph. Yet her father has other ideas – he has promised her to Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Will love prevail? Climb aboard to find out and enjoy a feast of fun along the way. Hip hip hooray!

Company Artistic Director: Vanessa Woodward
Producer and General Manager: Mike Woodward
Production Director: Tristan Stocks
Musical Director: Nia Williams
Technical and Lighting Director: John Alcock
Woodwind: Nick Planas

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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