first night

HMS Pinafore

Rebecca Flynn jumps on board HMS Pinafore.

In the Director’s note in the programme for HMS Pinafore, Charlie Oulton wrote that he ‘tried to dilute the air of frivolity that Gilbert and Sullivan seems to inspire’. This worried me greatly, as the simple story needs comedy to add substance. HMS Pinafore tracks the romance of Ralph Rackstraw (Hannah Howie), a sailor, and Josephine (Polly Leech), the daughter of the ship’s uptight Captain, Corcoran (Aaron Prewer-Jenkinson). Although some moments in this production were a bit dry, there were sparkling comic episodes. 

The orchestra were superb throughout. I particularly marvelled at the oboe’s solo in the overture. The Town Hall venue meant that these musicians were fully appreciated for their talent in a way which they rarely would be if in a pit, or hidden somewhere in the Assembly Rooms. However, by positioning the orchestra to the side, the wonderful Musical Director, Michael Ash, was not in the best position for the actors, and at times the audience lost an actor’s engagement as they looked to the side to be conducted at difficult musical moments.

It was refreshing to watch a piece of theatre in the Town Hall. The vaulted ceilings and panelled walls conveyed a stoic, stately atmosphere. Sometimes, however, the stage seemed too small – especially at the end of the first act. With all the cast in the staging area, a chaotic mass was created, and a lot of choreographed movement was lost which was a pity. However, it did seem to mirror perfectly the claustrophobia of living on the sea, which I liked.

The chorus of sailors warmed into their roles by the end of the first act, but there were moments when facial expressions needed to have been maintained, and sometimes the diction was lost. Dick Deadeye (Michael Earnshaw), stood out as the melancholy villain; however, he too warmed into his role in the second half. The female chorus was of a high standard, although they too needed to smile more. Julia Loveless’s Cousin Hebe was hilarious, and I loved her cat-hat!

I am torn by Prewer-Jenkinson’s performance. I feel I ought to have found his Captain overworked, but he was truly hilarious – every facial expression was thought over; of course his voice is impeccable and I loved his duets with Lucy Rowlanes (Buttercup). She, however, could have been even more flirtatious, to match her exuberant love interest. Polly Leech’s voice is indescribable; her high notes are to die for. She and Freddie Herman (Sir Joseph) seemed the most settled in their parts. Herman’s every movement spelled old age.

Innovatively, Hannah Howie assumed the main male part of Ralph. Oulton made great use of the dramatic irony of this, especially when this Scottish female was pronounced ‘an Englishman!’ However, particularly in duets with Leech, Howie’s low notes were almost inaudible, and I do wonder if this would have been the case if a bass had been cast in the role. Yes, Howie has amazing range, but her low tone was highly inferior to Leech’s soaring soprano.

This production proved why DULOG can claim to be a ‘light opera’ society. It was fun and innovative, but there were little moments when smiles slipped, or a soloist lost eye contact, and I was no longer on HMS Pinafore, but at sea.


Rebecca Flynn



6 November 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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