I must admit that I was a bit concerned about the choice that Peter Mulloy (Artistic Director, Carl Rosa Opera) had in mind to play the pompous desk-pushing first sea-lord (The head of the Queen’s Naveeee) Sir Joseph Porter in the latest production of Pinafore. Corrie Street butcher Fred Elliott was not a face that I had previously connected with the works of Gilbert & Sullivan. But the 71 year old actor, John Savident, had previously performed in Phantom of the Opera (as well as giving 11 years exalted service on The Street) and has enjoyed a brilliant career on stage, television and in film. In many ways he makes the perfect Sir Joseph Porter. Just the right amount of parody and pastiche.
Gilbert & Sullivan went to painstaking lengths to ensure the accuracy and authenticity of the original work, even going to Portsmouth to make detailed drawings of a real quarterdeck to be replicated by D’Oyly Carte. At the time (1878) the operetta was a huge box office success- and so it was with some pleasure that I noticed that the same kind of attention to detail was present (in production) in the new show at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking. I was also pleasantly surprised that the theatre was full.
Beverley Klein (Orlovsky: Die Fledermaus – English National Opera and Golde: Fiddler on the Roof – Savoy Theatre) presented a relaxed and rosy bumboat woman – Little Buttercup. Wyne Pencarreg (winner of the Erich Vietheer Memorial Award from Glyndebourne) played an efficiently capable Captain Corcoran. Perhaps baritone Gareth Jones (Dick Deadeye) could have been more forceful in vocal style and – at times- his voice was lost in the huge auditorium at Woking. But Josephine (Olivia Safe) was a pleasant and lightly agile soprano.
The best thing about all Gilbert & Sullivan operas is that they stand the test of time. When Sir Joseph sings “I grew so rich that I was sent – By a pocket borough into Parliament….I always voted at my party’s call” the audience cheered and chuckled. You could not help but be reminded of the ignominy faced by many of today’s ‘Sir Joseph Porters’ in a Parliament scandalised by a bunch of pocket-lining over-promoted junior clerks. Likewise, how many people do you know (family and friends) who, “In spite of all temptations – To belong to other nations – Remain (probably begrudgingly) English Men” ? Almost everyone I know is thinking of moving abroad for the sake of their own sanity!
And so the performance zipped merrily along – and all too soon- we found ourselves at the finale ‘Oh Joy, Oh Rapture. Unforseen’ and the jubilant celebration of right over wrong, good will prevailing over wickedness and a really English kind of muted successful conclusion – in other words a bit confused and bedraggled with everyone facing an uncertain future.
All in all, the show was light and frothy in all the right places but stern and stubborn when required. The choreography (by Steve Elias) was spot on – I particularly enjoyed the lines of pattern – almost like coiled ropes being rolled and unrolled on stage- and the gentler hornpipes, vortices and flourishes. Stage management was excellent and the costumes were efficient and convincing. The lively ensemble proved to have plenty of gusto and moved the show onwards in leaps and bounds.
Very highly recommended – whether you are a Gilbert & Sullivan ‘vet’ or new to comic opera – please try this show…
Next Shows (last in series)- Tuesday 16 June to Saturday 20 June at Theatre Royal, Windsor (01753 853 888)
(This autumn Carl Rosa Opera will be reviving their West End production of The Pirates of Penzance with Jo Brand as the
Sergeant of Police)