United Kingdom Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore: Buxton G&S Festival Company and Orchestra / Timothy Henty (conductor), Opera House, Buxton, 10-11-18.8.2012 (RJW)
Sir Joseph Porter: Simon Butteriss
Captain Corcoran: Ian Belsey
Ralph Rackstraw: Oliver White
Dick Deadeye: Philip Cox
Boatswain: Alastair McCall
Josephine: Charlotte Page
Hebe: Angela Simkin
Little Buttercup: Sylvia Clarke
Choreography: Mary MacDonagh
Musical Directior: Timothy Henty
Director: Cav. Vivian Coates
This is the freshest and enjoyable version of HMS Pinafore I have seen for a long time. This should be no surprise for director Cav. Vivian Coates has won awards for his stage productions in recent years. Of late, a number of good productions have been regularly churned out in the UK like hot cakes, many making their appearance here at Buxton: all have had their creative merits and shortcomings.
From the industriously busy sailors opening in their smartly pressed uniforms one’s attention is grabbed. The wardrobe has excelled at the variety, yet appropriateness, of colour There was much to enjoy in the characterisations: an aloof Captain, an over-familiar, flat-footed Admiral, a gravelly and persistent Dick Deadeye and determined Josephine (Charlotte Page). Between them they brought convincing meaning to the exchange of dialogue, especially Simon Butteriss in captivating the audience’s attention in his portrayal of Sir Joseph. The slick and well organised and well rehearsed choreography by Mary MacDonagh was refreshingly different.
Good stage business included panicking partly dressed sailors at the start of “Over the bright blue sea” , later putting jackets on and pulling up trousers for the entry of the sisters, cousins and aunts. A novel device of feeding a rope from sailor to sailor to then use a barrier was a nice touch as was the serving of afternoon tea on deck from a silver service to a seated Sir Joseph and Captain.
In Act II, with the deck nicely lit by authentic lanterns, I was wondering how Little Buttercup might read the Captain’s destiny with gloved hands; she produced tarot cards instead. Sylvia Clarke radiated charm throughout though seemed short of trinkets to sell. But it was a mistake to give Ralph the same Buttercup utilitarian suitcase with which to elope. I wanted Oliver White to lighten up a bit from his determined stance, yet a nice touch at the end of “Audacious tar” worked nicely for both him and Josephine. Another nice touch was when Josephine who, horrified at the framed portrait of Sir Joseph, tosses it away, and it is caught by Hebe who then clutches it to her bosom.
Mention must be made of Dick Deadeye (Philip Cox) whose stage presence was magnetic and took on a new dimension from traditional productions. He had no deformation other than a stoop nor scary make-up, but an equally detestable form with his well-projected gritty voice. Josephine soared with the two magnificent arias Sullivan had written for her and Ralph (Oliver White) was effective as her suitor and the trio “A British tar” was nicely sung. Another departure from routine occurred when one of the sailors prepares a noose which is dropped down from the rigging for the proposed suicide in place of the usual pistol.
Soliloqual lighting changes brought good variety to the stage picture, but to take down the up-stage cyclorama lighting for a daylit scene I felt was a mistake. For a Portsmouth exterior of Act I, I felt that the effective directional lighting used for Act II night time needed flattening to fill in some down-stage pockets of shadow. Follow spots were subtle and nicely used. Paul Lazell’s new set is striking with its authentic deck planking and realistically-painted panelling and ropework. The raised Captain’s cabin balcony served nicely for Sir Joseph to eye up the commotion amongst the company when the Captain stops the elopement with his ‘damn’. A delightful ending to Act I included streamers of nationalistic Red White and Blue ribbons running toward the audience and the Act II finale included “Rule Britannia”.
The Buxton Festival Orchestra under Timothy Henty’s direction opened with a well-played overture and were spot on with their pace and timing. It is good to see this 133 year-old opera looking as fresh as the day it was written and filling the theatre to capacity at this matinee performance
Raymond J Walker