BWW Reviews: HMS PINAFORE, Hackney Empire, February 15 2014
Sasha Regan has sent the good ship Pinafore off around the (rather appropriately) flooded country, replete with its sisters, cousins and aunts and filled to the gunnels with the wit, music and the sheer fun that has kept Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera afloat for 136 years. Expanded from its original production (under the arches at the Union Theatre) the touring version has some changes to the (all-male) cast and even more jokes, but retains all the best of its sellout run in the autumn.
While newcomer Keith Jack lends his Any Dream Will Do TV star quality to lovestruck Ralph and Neil Moors vests Captain Corcoran with plenty of beefcake charm, it's a real delight to see how the actors who who were onboard in Southwark have reacted to the bigger stages. Richard Russell Edwards gets more laughs from Cousin Hebe, turning the camp factor all the way up to 11 and David McKechnie leaves no lip uncurled reprising Sir Joseph Porter KCB. The ensemble, with many familiar faces I was pleased to note, sing, act and dance (when not pulling tops on and off) with great skill, enjoying the space and throwing in a few splendid sight gags.
The all-male casting is not just a gimmick - it affords great opportunities to the actors playing the female roles, opportunities splendidly realised. Alex Weatherhill's Buttercup is beautifully transformed early on from slightly portly cook to maternal middle-aged woman, his voice going from pleasant but unexceptional, to soaring falsetto. The benefits of the casting works best of all with Josephine (the object of Ralph's desire) spectacularly sung and acted by Alan Richardson, whose "Sorry her lot who loves too well" is a real showstopper.
Of course all the old favourites are given full value - "We sail the ocean blue"; "When I was a lad"; "Never mind the why and wherefore" - each with a fresh and imaginative staging and an immediacy afforded by piano accompaniment and voices amplified just enough to fill the theatre, but not so much that the enhancement becomes noticeable. One resists, just, the urge to sing along.
As so often with Ms Regan's productions of G&S I'm left with the irresistible urge to advise those who have never seen one of the works of the nineteenth century's Rodgers and Hammerstein to have a look at what they're missing. And to those who have seen a Mikado, a Pinafore or a Pirates - well, you know. But you'll also see plenty that's new and rewarding in this innovative, clever and brilliantly realised production.