Review: HMS Pinafore

Johanna Ohlman 15 November 2013

7.45pm, Thur 14 to Sat 16 Nov (plus 2.30pm matinee on Sat), St Andrew's Street Baptist Church

Let me entertain you. Whenever that Robbie Williams song gets stuck in my head I have two options. Either a) begin analysing how and why this happened to me or b) chill a bit and accept that the song is pretty catchy. As I’m not a big Robbie Williams fan, I’m happy to have my head filled instead with the bombastic choruses from the Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s production of HMS Pinafore. The cast and band of this production certainly do sound like Robbie, in the hypothetical way (if there is one). Let us entertain you they seem to say. So will you be entertained?

Comic opera. To those not familiar with the phrase, and who find opera boring, this may sound like a contradiction. Fear not, HMS Pinafore lacks foreign language and glasses breaking. Instead, it’s instead filled with slapstick, one-liners and ridicule of the class system. The plot follows a crew of incompetent sailors, an incompetent captain, a blossoming romance or two and several consequent mishaps. It’s entertainment at face value, in a way.

Live acting and live music seems like a good combination if you want to be entertained and by watching this comic opera you are getting actors onstage in front of you and a live band on your left. It’s proof of a well-rehearsed show when I barely notice the cellist playing a few feet away as the cues flow seamlessly. Unfortunately, the band at times overpowers the actors and even drowns the entire cast and chorus. The band is significantly more considerate in the numerous tender solos, however.

The cast on their part overpower the stage when all twenty-six attempt to occupy it at once. Undoubtedly they are limited by their performance space, which unfortunately becomes apparent during choreographed moves and dancing. A smaller chorus would probably have been appropriate. Nonetheless, credit awarded to the director for imaginatively using levels, depth and even offstage space to save the cast from awkwardly dwarfing the stage.

With such a large cast I am pleasantly surprised by the individual engagement that gives detail, they themselves seem entertained. When dialogue is sung it may even be difficult to comprehend what is being said, let alone what is meant. Paying attention to the mimes of the cast will definitely enlighten your experience.

So I suggest you cut yourself some slack and don’t set out on a quest to understand all the characters or the entire course of events. I soon find that I am most entertained if I sit back and smile to myself at the charm of this production. So will you be entertained? The answer is that HMS Pinafore will entertain you if you allow it to.