United Kingdom Gilbert & Sullivan – H.M.S. Pinafore: Festival Youth Production, Harrogate Festival, Savoy Theatre, Harrogate, Yorkshire 12.8.2017. (RJW)
Sir Joseph Porter – George Herbert
Captain Corcoran – Adam Brown
Ralph Rackstraw – Fabian Sturman
Dick Deadeye – Giles Longstaff
Bill Bobstay (boatswain) – Samuel Higginbottom
Bob Becket (carpenter) – Christian Longstaff
Josephine – Alexandra Mather
Hebe – Katherine Nilsbird
Little Buttercup – Lucy Anne Fletcher
Director – Sarah Helsby Hughes
Musical Director – Oliver Longstaff
Each year at the Festival a band of youngsters rehearse for a week to present one of the operas in the annual Youth production. They so much enjoy their experience at the Festival that more than a sprinkling of them return for another year despite living inconvenient distances from Harrogate. This year was no exception for there were faces I recognised. They led the rest of the freshers with good stage presence and gave confidence to the others in the singing.
The Festival takes education through performance seriously and provides a production with orchestra, full stage scenery and good costumes (made to fit the differing heights). Consequently, the performance gives a rare opportunity for the youngsters to find out how the professionals go about their task. The result was a spectacle to behold. All dialogue was word-perfect and the chorus singing was in parts rather than in unison and to a high order. Three American teenagers joined in the chorus ranks to soak up the fun and delights of a live performance. The cast believed in the characters they were playing and this enthusiasm was projected to the audience. The auditorium was filled to capacity and some festival-goers even had to be turned away.
The opening sailors chorus with its good stage routine provided amusement for they ranged from a tall 16-year-old to a short 10 year-old with these extremes often placed alongside each other. The crew were led by a brilliant Boatswain (Samuel Higginbottom) who would stand for no nonsense from his mess mates and was quick to put Dick in his place. The stage routine while awaiting the arrival of the sisters, cousins and aunts was brilliant. The crew lined up for a big wet sponge to have their faces washed and cores of eaten apples were quickly thrown overboard so as not to litter the deck. Buttercup (Lucy Anne Fletcher) was positive in her interaction with the crew and provided a lovely vibrato at the end of her stanzas. The shortest youngster was amusing with his hopeful hand-out of peppermint drops from her ribboned basket. Ralph Rackstraw (Fabian Sturman) sang with strong confidence and provided good dynamics during his solos. His speaking voice occasionally dropped in audibility but it was not a big problem. Dick Deadeye (Giles Longstaff) carried off his menacing presence with good colour and was careful not to overact in his interaction with the crew. He kept up a difficult growl to his voice without falter, a difficult task for many a teenager.
Josephine’s success relies on two arias and interaction with Ralph, where a difficult balance of haughtiness and passion needs to be carefully judged. This she achieved to perfection. Alexandra Mather’s arias were beautifully sung and she was quick to put Ralph in his place when he was becoming over-familiar.
The show was given considerable strength by Adam Brown’s authoritative portrayal of Captain Corcoran. He brought out the character magnificently. With a lovely resonant baritone voice, his station was clearly shown in ‘I am the Captain of the Pinafore’ and his commanding presence on stage showed. Likewise, Sir Joseph (George Herbert) injected good comedy to the proceedings. His clarity in singing was excellent and his stage presence was strong. Hebe (Katherine Nilsbird) gave good support in Act II.
The direction was brilliantly handled by Sarah Helby Hughes and it was clear that a lot of work had gone into the training of the cast. This brought about the necessary confidence to appear in front of an audience, many of whom will have known the piece upside down and inside out! Musical Director, Oliver Longstaff, did superb work in preparing the cast for their delightful singing. I particularly liked the difficult ‘A British Tar’ trio, and the Act I finale had a great deal of polish. Harriet Ravdin did an excellent job in getting her elegant costumes to fit such differing sizes. Amusement throughout was provided when some ‘men’ were seen continually hitching up their trousers when slipping low on the waist.
Despite Sullivan’s musical sophistication for undeveloped children’s voices, schools used to regularly perform this genre of show up to the 1960s. With this production, it is certain that the British heritage of Gilbert & Sullivan is safe in the hands of the next generation, but such events need wide support both financially and in the organisation of such Festival events.
Raymond J Walker