United Kingdom Sullivan, HMS Pinafore: Soloists and Chorus of Buxton Festival Youth Production, Buxton, Derbyshire 6.8.2011 (RJW)
Henry Smith … Sir Joseph Porter
Alan Powland … Captain Corcoran
Ralph Rackstraw … Digory Price
Nathaniel Forsyth … Dick Deadeye
Patrick Swain … Bill Bostay
Jacob McFaddon … Carpenter
Katherine Wood … Josephine
Chloe Philips-Bartlett … Hebe
Fern Strawson … Little Buttercup
Choreography by Holly Strawson
Musical Direction by Roz Savourin
Directed by Andrew Nicklin
For a number of years now the Buxton G&S Festival have been actively promoting a youth wing to the programme since it is the present generation of youngsters that will ensure that the Gilbert & Sullivan genre will remain cemented in the fabric of British theatre.
Never before have I witnessed such a dedicated enthusiastic children perform to a quality that surpasses many an adult operatic society. They had auditions in May and then worked together for a week to put the show together, and what a credit it is to all concerned! Amongst the principals there was no weakness either in singing or acting.
An elegant and realistic set hid the complication that this theatre has the peculiarity that no entrances or exits are possible on one side. This was partly overcome by having some of the cast make their appearance from the audience. The scenery was complemented by equally excellent well-fitting costumes. To have the sailors with matching white canvas shoes and girls in black slip-ons shows the extent of detail considered. Oversized straw boaters added to the amusement of the occasion.
The opening, a co-ordinated bustling scene with deck mopping, dusting and polishing of fitments had all deckhands actively employed and confident in their singing. Their casual groupings to dress the set were ideal. Throughout, the chorus (aged between 8 and 16) kept up their focus with true professionalism, and with no wandering eyes to the audience. A side step routine by the crew between verses in Sir Joseph’s song was neatly amusing.
Josephine was a captivatingly pretty and delightful 17 yr old who gave a lovely and strong performance with nice touches and actions like the dropping of petals from her rose in ‘Sorry her lot’ on the words, ‘when love is dead’. She was supported by a dashing Ralph whose singing and acting maturity hid his real age of 14. The convincing interaction and good harmony in their duet ‘Refrain, audacious tar’ was spectacular with good balance between voices. Ralph’s ‘A maiden fair to see’ was a delight and he led the trio ‘A British tar’ well. He kept up his blunt Coronation St. dialogue superbly throughout.
Sir Joseph (15) was amusingly smug and took the opportunity to include comic stage business: this was the tipsyist ‘Never mind the why and wherefore’ I have seen. He commanded a good stage presence and was more than capable at putting Captain Corcoran in his place. Corcoran (18) opened the second act with a lovely ‘Fair moon’ with lovely tone, delightful vibrato and crisp diction.
Good support was given by Little Buttercup (17) and Hebe (13), both with charming voices, and they gave excellent support. Buttercup held the audience’s attention with appropriate children’s gifts from her basket in her opening song. Dick Deadeye’s triangular look never faltered and he gave a sturdy performance.
Under Roz Savourin’s baton an ensemble of seven players although using a reduced orchestration gave an excellent reading of the Overture and throughout balanced well with the soloists.
Andrew Nicklin is to be congratulated for this outstanding production. This happy band of dedicated youngsters have been brilliantly trained. They have learnt their parts well and understand the characters they play. The director’s attention to detail has been exacting and this has resulted in the professionalism experienced.
Raymond J Walker