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Photo by Phil Erbacher

H.M.S. Pinafore

Hayes Theatre Company presents, H.M.S. PINAFORE or The Lass That Loved a Sailor. Book by W.S. Gilbert. Music by Arthur Sullivan. At the Hayes Theatre, Greenknowe Ave, Potts Point. 13 November - 14th December

H.M.S. PINAFORE is a comic operetta written in 1878, by a famous double act: W.S. Gilbert, responsible for the Book (Lyrics), with Sir Arthur Sullivan who wrote the music.

Mistaken identity, class warfare, sisters, (cousins, aunts) and sailors and the trickiest of tongue twisters abound in this nautical caper. H.M.S. PINAFORE is a sharp satire of the English social hierarchical system of the Victorian Age. (…) It answers the burning question(s) of who among equals is the most equal and whether love can level all ranks.

At the Hayes Theatre, Director Kate Gaul, brings this Victorian work onto its 2019 stage with an hilarious cultural wink of high flown ‘campery’ that has a decidedly contemporary heritage intravenously channelled from the Ru Paul phenomenon, (and from other Sydney icons such as, perhaps, Betty Blokk Buster – due for revival at this year’s January, Sydney Festival), where the act of theatre travesty is, in full make-up and costume, demonstrating gender fluidity and gender blindness in casting to an hilarious offer of comic relish. For instance, Ralph Rackshaw, the young sailor hero is impersonated by soprano Billie Pallin and the mysterious dame of the show, Little Buttercup, is possessed by Tom Campbell, while the Patter Song lead, Sir Joseph Porter, is brought to life by Rory O’Keefe, and for us ‘hipsters’ could be more related to Frank-n-Furter from the Rocky Horror Picture Show than the traditional heritage of the D’Oly Carte, Savoy Operas, which were a big part of Australia’s theatre appetite.

I remember, in the 60’s waiting for the annual Gilbert and Sullivan (G&S) showing in the old stuffy version of the Verbrugghen Hall at the Sydney Conservatorium, in the stultifying Australian summer and, of course, later the Australian Opera productions in the air-conditioned Opera Theatre (so much more comfortable to be in) with the incomparable Dennis Olsen and later, Reg Livermore, in the wickedly funny Patter roles of which Sir Joseph Porter was one of the gems of their talents. THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (1879), IOLANTHE (1882), THE GONDOLIERS (1889), and perhaps the best of them all, THE MIKADO (1885) were as well known and anticipated with great glee by us all in those olden times.

G&S was also a favourite of the amateur theatre repertoire. I once was singing in TRIAL BY JURY (1875), and believe it or not, as Captain Corcoran in H.M.S. PINAFORE. Then, the Theatre Musical, principally the Broadway Musical, exiled these works from our stages until, today, we see them only as occasional antique curiosities or ‘souped up’ with contemporary accessories.

This Hayes Theatre production is a chamber version of the full work with a small cast of only 11 actors who double-up in many different characters and guises (even as Musicians). All of the performers have excellent voices, wonderfully honed by Music Director, Zara Stanton, and their dexterous Choreographic feats measured exactly with much sprightliness by Ash Bee. The design, by Melanie Liertz, is delightfully ‘twee’ in all its many changing ways made ‘shining’ by the Lighting Design from Fausto Brusamolino. It is all an easy ‘wicked’ delight.

This H.M.S. PINAFORE, is blessed with great singing and deviously clever comic acting – droll and knowing – from all, elicited with gentle skill by Director Kate Gaul. Her production’s tempo is marvellously controlled and is as influential in the efficacy of the unfolding events. Tom Campbell is wickedly wonderful as Little Buttercup, but is just as amusing in every role he undertakes throughout the night – a scene stealer, even in his most subtle gesture and incarnation. I was impressed with Tobias Cole in the relatively straight role of Captain Corcoran, Katherine Allen (Josephine), Billie Palin (Ralph Rackstraw), and in the Ensemble actor/singers Zach Selmes, Gavin Brown and mesmeric Bobbie-Jean Henning, with those huge “Bette Davis Eyes”, take impressive moments.

Fun. Cute. Cheeky. Camp. Nostalgic. Worth a visit.

P.S. I recommend that you find Mike Leigh’s marvellous film TOPSY TURVEY (1999), which focuses on the strains of the first production of G&S’s THE MIKADO. It is meticulously researched and the Design astonishing in its detail, and the tensions with all the major personalities of the creative team – Gilbert, Sullivan, D’Oly Carte bristling with comic (and tragic) revelations.