The University of Nottingham’s Gilbert and Sullivan Society showed off their hard work and talent in a production of H.M.S. Pinafore at Nottingham High School last week. With a light and airy set, featuring two wooden spiral staircases on either side of the stage, the audience felt as though they truly were on a many-decked ship. Opening with the lively ‘We Sail The Ocean Blue’, which featured sailors jumping across the stage to sing about their love of the sea, this song, like the rest of the show, was exciting and full of energy!
To sum up the plot, H.M.S. Pinafore is a comedy opera set on a ship in 1890. Ralph Rackstraw is a sailor that pines over the Captain’s daughter Josephine, but knows that she is above him in social class. To complicate things further, Josephine has an arranged engagement to Sir Joseph Porter, a much older and richer man than her father, but bemoans the match as she is secretly in love with Ralph. When both characters reveal their true feelings, chaos ensues as social rankings are thrown overboard, and the ship begins to sway, with schemes and plots to prevent their match, coming from all angles.
“When both characters reveal their true feelings, chaos ensues as social rankings are thrown overboard, and the ship begins to sway, with schemes and plots to prevent their match, coming from all angles”
Katrina Wilkins played the shrewd Little Buttercup, who was constantly plying the sailors with her trinkets. Her vocal style had an operatic feel to it, and she represented the motherly character very well. Similarly, the male romantic lead Michael Ellis, who played Ralph Rackstraw, showed off his skill with the song ‘The Nightingale’. Ellis’ pure and clear voice perfectly matched the song, and it was no surprise after viewing the programme to see that Ellis is a seasoned performer. Another singing delight was the Captain, played by Charles Collins, and the chorus’ rendition of ‘My Gallant Crew’. Between the rich tones of Collins’ voice and the humorous dancing of the chorus, it was difficult to tell which was more enjoyable.
The main female lead Josephine was played by Grace Bale, with the choral scholar aspect of her voice evident in her bell-like high notes and even delivery as she pined for the lowly sailor Ralph. As the plot progresses, it transpires that Josephine cannot marry Ralph, and is instead to be courted by the new head of the Navy, Sir Joseph Porter (Jon Salt). Upon his appearance, Sir Joseph’s song, ‘When I was a Lad’ seemed strikingly relevant to today, mentioning that Sir Joseph had never seen a ship before he gained his new naval position, and had only ever worked in offices before. The line ‘stick close to your desk and never go to sea!’ was one the audience found particularly humorous! The song was funny in its own right, but it took a while to warm to Salt’s portrayal of a curmudgeonly old man. Initially Salt seemed slightly nervous, but he warmed to the performance, and his acting grew in the second half, where he seemed more comfortable being in the spotlight.
The second act’s action was even more enthralling than the first’s, as Josephine and Ralph planned to elope, whilst the cranky sailor Dick Deadeye (Matthew Hammonds) betrayed them to the Captain. Comically, in the meantime, Little Buttercup hatched a plan to marry the Captain, as detailed in the song, ‘Things Are Seldom What They Seem’. Hammonds as Dick Deadeye gave the opera’s stand-out performance as the vindictive villain, consistently staying in character, and even keeping to his hunched walk and mad-eyed gaze when the cast were taking their bows. The other character who really shone in their role was Nephtali Garrido as the Boatswain’s Mate, who seemed to have boundless energy, enthusiastically singing and dancing throughout the show.
“Hammonds as Dick Deadeye gave the opera’s stand-out performance as the vindictive villain, consistently staying in character, and even keeping to his hunched walk and mad-eyed gaze when the cast were taking their bows”
Lastly, a special mention must go to the excellent orchestra, which was a lot larger than previous years, and who played tirelessly throughout the performance to bring the naval feel to the production. The trumpets (Chris Warner and Oliver Gordon), oboe (Rebecca Noall) and flutes (Scarlett Askew and Lucy Kerslake) truly made the audience want to dance a hornpipe along with the cast!
Of course, the huge farcical plot twist that occurs at the end of the production cannot be revealed, but H.M.S. Pinafore was well worth a watch! With a light-hearted feel and great singing and dancing, the Gilbert and Sullivan Society gave their audience a very fun evening out.