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Opera della Luna: HMS Pinafore at Wilton’s Music Hall

Opera della Luna's H.M.S. Pinafore - Matthew Siveter and Louise Crane.
Opera della Luna’s H.M.S. Pinafore – Matthew Siveter and Louise Crane.

This year, Opera Della Luna is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary of staging and touring small scale productions of musicals, operetta and light opera, all under the energetic directorship of Jeff Clarke.

Luckily his 20-year-old production of Pinafore was designed for touring to all types of venues and looked well on the stage of Wilton’s Music Hall, making full use of the two levels. It starts as it continues, exhibiting great pace and energy as the entire cast (of eight!) erects the set: the quarter deck of sailing ship HMS Pinafore, placed, in this production, in Dickens’ time. This revival is very timely as Gilbert’s libretto focuses, even more than any other, on British class prejudice. Like Dickens, the greatest fascination is with the middle class who can quickly be elevated to luxury and elegance, yet so easily be reduced to penury and misery. Clarke’s production, offering a slightly abridged version of both libretto and music, highlights this, whilst often being exceedingly amusing, even to those who know the operetta (‘comic opera’) well. Especially impressive is the direction of the dialogue which flows seamlessly into and out of musical numbers as well as bringing out the pathos, melodrama and humour inherent in the show.

The cast, many of whom double roles and sexes, is uniformly superb, being a fine team of singing actors. Matthew Siveter, long experienced as a G and S performer, had a typically stiff upper lip as Captain Corcoran as did Georgina Stalbow as Josephine, his daughter, giving a very stylish melodramatic interpretation of her second act aria, which suited Jeff Clarke’s stylised production. Louise Crane gave a well-honed interpretation of Little Buttercup, as did Martin George as Bill Bobstay, and John Lofthouse as ‘evil’ Dick Deadeye and Sir Joseph Porter’s ‘sister’! Sir Joseph himself, the First Lord of The Admiralty who has never been to sea (reminding one of the recent transport minister Chris – failing – Grayling in Teresa May’s government) was perhaps slightly underplayed by Graeme Henderson. Lawrence Olsworth-Peter as ‘hero’ able seaman Ralph, promoted to Captain at the end of the show, owing to a mix-up by wet nurse Little Buttercup when he was an infant being admitted, demonstrated a sound knowledge of melodramatic skills, especially using his eyes to great effect.  Carolyn Allen as Hebe, whom rather camp Sir Joseph eventually has to marry, because there is no one else, had her role expanded by the director using dialogue from G and S’s “Patience” which at least gave her some motivation!

It is easy to forget how good Sullivan’s music is for HMS Pinafore. Every number is inspired, being exactly what is required at that particular moment in the plot: for example ‘For He Is an Englishman’ where Sullivan is able to find exactly the right pseudo-patriotic and memorable melody. The original 1870s productions inspired ‘Pinafore Mania’ both in London and especially in New York where there were several theatres playing different ‘pirated’ versions at the same time, there being no copyright laws in the USA.

In this production, musical standards were very high under the direction of Michael Waldron, the orchestra of seven, all dressed in uniform, giving a ‘Palm Court’ style rendition of the music with great enthusiasm.

The previously mentioned set was cleverly designed by Graham Wynne, costume design was by Nigel Howard and the ever-inventive choreography by Jenny Arnold.

This production of H M S Pinafore really worked, especially in the intimate setting of Wilton’s Music Hall. Highly recommended if you can catch it on tour.

4 stars

Review by John Groves

In true Opera della Luna style, eight performers become crew, chorus and principals in this acclaimed production of the classic comic opera HMS Pinafore.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s satire of the British class system is set aboard the ship HMS Pinafore, where the captain’s marriage plans for his daughter go hilariously awry when she falls for a lower-class sailor instead of the First Lord of the Admiralty.

Packed to the brim with toe-tapping tunes, the wit and verve of this production is the perfect showcase for the talents of Opera della Luna, one of the UK’s leading exponents of operetta and comic music-theatre.

Presented by Opera della Luna
28th – 31st August 2019


  • 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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