Opera della Luna’s HMS Pinafore sails the seas at Wilton’s Music Hall

As company founder and director Jeff Clarke explains in the programme for
the show’s current tour, the company’s first 60-minute version of HMS Pinafore was designed for performance on board the QE2, in
1997. Performances for the Covent Garden Festival in 2000 and 2001 restored
20 minutes of the previously omitted material. When a decision was made, in
2001, to prepare a ‘full-length’ version with interval, the company
determined upon the original 1878 version and ‘put back all the cuts, to
preserve our stream-lined version as the core and to add a new interpolated
opening and closing sequence’.

The resulting palimpsest, complete with some ‘judicious re-arrangement of
the chorus material’, has been pleasing audiences ever since, and the
punters at Wilton’s Music Hall showed their obvious delight, appreciation
and approval during and after this lively rendition.

Some might like their satire served up in modern manifestation, but (sadly)
some things never change, and the English class system can furnish
twenty-first century humourists with as much idiocy and injustice for
lampooning as their historical predecessors enjoyed. After all, the current
Leader of the Commons is more commonly known as the Honourable Member for
the 18th century.

Moreover, with mendacity seemingly the default mode of many of today’s
politicians and leaders, the gentlemanly Captain Corcoran’s vacillation
between truth and falsehood – “What, never?” CAPT.: “No, never!” ALL:
“What, never?” CAPT.: “Hardly ever!” – seems absolutely in tune with the
times. And, with Brexiteers blustering and rhapsodising along the lines of
“We are a great nation and a great people”, it’s rather wry, though
somewhat depressing, to be reminded by W.S. Gilbert that there have long
been those who have failed to see the absurdity of regarding one’s
nationality as an ‘achievement’ to be celebrated, rather than an accident
of birth: as the ship’s crew joyfully crow of Able Seaman Ralph Rackstraw,
“And it’s greatly to his credit/ That he is an Englishman! … For he might
have been a Roosian,/ A French, or Turk, or Proosian, … But in spite of all
temptations/ To belong to other nations,/ He remains an Englishman!”

In fact, Clarke moves the action not forward, but back, to the days of
Dickens, justifying this transposition by reference to numerous Dickensian
resonances: ‘One of Dickens’ Sketches by Boz tells of a snobbish
resident by the name of Mrs Joseph Porter. Another describes a marine-store
dealer in Seven Dials and lists the contents of his store: handkerchiefs,
ribbons, a small tray containing silver watches, snuff, tobaccy boxes – in
fact the very inventory of Buttercup’s stock.’ No ‘justification’ is really
needed though, for if anyone was concerned with the efforts, and
accompanying risks, of the lower strata of the middle class to rise from
being tradesmen and upper servants, and the gap between the practices of
this new commercial middle class and the principles of morality, then
Dickens was.

At Wilton’s, the small cast of eight – there’s some doubling up for Sir
Joseph’s various sisters and aunts – expended great energy and sustained a
terrific pace. A naval tattoo (Graham Dare, percussion) gets the show
underway and as pianist/musical director Michael Waldron and his
sailor-suited six-piece band ripped through the overture, so the scattered
ropes and tarpaulin were gathered, the ship’s rigging hoisted, and Pinafore made ready to set forth from her mooring bay in
Portsmouth harbour.

Matthew Siveter impressed as Captain Corcoran, with his suave baritone,
smooth phrasing and self-serving expediency: ‘I am the Captain’ found
Siveter in particularly fine voice, and ‘Never Mind the Why and Wherefore’
saw him joined by an effervescent Josephine (Georgina Stalbow) and Graeme
Henderson’s outlandish Sir Joseph in a refrain-reprising rejoicing that,
threatening to roll on infinitely, took on the slightly desperate but
deliciously madcap air of an Eric Morecambe routine.

Elsewhere Stalbow’s diction sometimes dissatisfied and she didn’t always
have the heft to carry over the lively band – although, admittedly, I was
seated very close to Waldron’s vigorous vamping – but she had plenty of
glossiness at the top and her Josephine was warm-hearted. Henderson pushed
the camp to the brink, and at times beyond, and brought a
dictionary’s-worth of new meanings to the humble wink of an eye.

Louise Crane and Carolyn Allen worked hard, with sterling results, as
Little Buttercup and Sir Joseph’s cousin Hebe respectively, while Lawrence
Olsworth-Peter brought a youthful tone and a healthy dose of self-irony to
the role of Ralph.

So, in summing up all that there’s really left to say is, “Now give three
cheers …” for Opera della Luna!

Claire Seymour

Sir Joseph Porter – Graeme Henderson, Captain Corcoran – Matthew Sivester,
Josephine – Georgina Stalbow, Ralph Rackstraw – Lawrence Olsworth-Peter,
Little Buttercup/Sir Joseph’s sister – Louise Crane, Cousin Hebe – Carolyn
Allen, Bill Bobstay – Martin George, Dick Deadeye/Sir Joseph’s aunt – John
Lofthouse; Director – Jeff Clarke, Musical Director – Matthew Waldron, Set
Designer – Graham Wynne, Costume Designer – Nigel Howard, Lighting Designer
– Ian Wilson, Choreographer – Jenny Arnold, The ‘massed band of the Pinafore’ (violin – Rachel Davies, cello – Rosalind Acton,
flute/piccolo – Gavin Morrison, clarinet – Simon Briggs, bassoon – SinÈad
Frost, percussion – Graham Dare).

Wilton’s Music Hall, London; Wednesday 28th August 2019.

product_title=HMS Pinafore: Opera della Luna at Wilton’s Music Hall
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Matthew Siveter (Captain Corcoran) and Louise Crane (Little Buttercup)