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Sasha Regan’s All-Male H.M.S. Pinafore at Wilton’s Music Hall

Sasha Regan’s HMS Pinafore remains essentially faithful to W.S Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan’s arch satire about class, duty and privilege – which should delight Gilbert & Sullivan purists. Whilst populated by a (very aesthetically pleasing) all-male cast, this late 19th-century operetta was already a jocular tale of high camp on the high seas – whether or not it was described as such at the time. In fact, there is little need for ‘re-imagining’ because it’s remarkable (if somewhat depressing) how little has changed in the better part of 150 years.

Juan Jackson Captain of the All-Male H.M.S. Pinafore by Mark Senior.
Juan Jackson Captain of the All-Male H.M.S. Pinafore by Mark Senior.

Pinafore follows a formula, like panto, to create space for top-notch musical numbers and a screwball comedy of manners. With stellar voices from the superlative Juan Jackson as Captain Corcoran – who brings a whole new level of nautical muscularity to the role – and Sam Kipling demonstrating pitch-perfect soprano range as the Captain’s daughter, Josephine, this production is first and foremost about musicality; against which it delivers handsomely. Danny Beck as ‘common sailor’ Ralph Rackstraw (around whom the central plot complication of his seemingly not knowing his ‘place’ in the game of love and class by falling for officer’s daughter Josephine) lands his notes and makes his mark as the anchor to famous crowd-pleasing numbers delivered harmonically and gloriously in concert with the entire ensemble. Along with Ashley Jacobs’s musical direction, choreographer Lizzi Gee brings outstanding entertainment value to a gymnastic and vibrant staging that takes this Victorian operetta to a place of unabashed 21st-century fun. Sasha Regan’s direction keeps everything moving at pace such that there is no time for watch-checking amongst the toe-tapping.

Regan’s HMS Pinafore is undeniably entertaining. I did wonder, however, why she chose to stage it with an all-male cast (a revival from its debut in 2013) whilst neither changing any character’s genders nor adopting a gender-blind casting approach? Scott Armstrong as Little Buttercup affects a ‘femmed-up’ transformation on stage – applying lipstick, donning a headscarf and rolling the shoulders of a work-shirt to a bunched silhouette. It’s the sort of female impersonation common in 1980s films with hackneyed prison tropes. It seems old-fashioned in that it is neither full drag nor is it gender-blind. I suspect the Gilbert & Sullivan Societies of the Home Counties would be perfectly comfortable with its ‘tameness’ – and yet, what point is Regan making here? There is a brief wiping away of the feminised trappings at the very end, but not in time for anyone’s ‘true’ identity to be part of the love matches that conclude the story. Indeed Gilbert & Sullivan’s original book navigates delicately around British class mores in that, whilst rigid restrictions of aspiring to one’s betters are mocked, no one actually leaves their class due to convenient separated-at-birth devices. This production is great fun, pacey and extremely high quality but in many ways a faithful and quaint rendition of classic Gilbert & Sullivan. Expect to be entertained and enjoy delicious production values and quality performances; but if you want to be challenged, you’re unlikely to find it here.

4 stars

Review by Mary Beer

Come and “sail the ocean blue” with Sasha Regan’s smash hit award-winning All-Male Company which docks at Wilton’s Music Hall for another nautical adventure!

Burly sailors will take you below deck on a World War II battleship in this inventive reimagining of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s fourth collaboration and first international blockbuster: H.M.S. Pinafore, or “The Lass That Loved a Sailor”.

With infectious tunes and a beautifully constructed libretto, this charming comic operetta deals with the age-old conundrum of love between social classes. The Captain’s daughter, Josephine, is caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea when she falls for lower-class sailor Ralph Rackstraw, but the Captain wishes for her to marry the upstanding Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Will Josephine follow her heart or honour her father’s wish? Find out from March. Anything is possible in this epic seagoing love story!

Expect plenty of mischief and surprises on the high seas from the brawny Popeyes and their gorgeous, hairy lasses.
Cast and Creatives

Danny Becker (Ralph Rackstraw); Sam Kipling (Josephine); Juan Jackson (Captain Corcoran); Jazz Evans (Dick Deadeye); Scott Armstrong (Miss Cripps “Little Buttercup”); David McKechnie (Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B.); Richard Russell Edwards (Cousin Hebe); Matthew McDonald (Boatswain).

Tom Duern; Gareth Evans; Patrick Cook; Joshua Clayton; Oliver Ramsdale; Matthew Facchino; Trevor Lin (Swing); Zac Adlam (Swing).

Director – Sasha Regan
Libretto – W.S. Gilbert
Composer – Arthur Sullivan
Choreographer – Lizzi Gee
Design – Ryan Dawson Laight
Lighting – Ben Bull
Casting Director – Adam Braham Casting
Producers – Regan De Wynter Williams Ltd
PR – Fiona Lockley, Lockley Gladwyn
Graphic Design – Spiff

Sasha Regan’s All-Male H.M.S. Pinafore opens at Wilton’s Music Hall on 16th March, running until 9th April 2022
1 Graces Alley, Whitechapel (just off Ensign Street), London E1 8JB

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  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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