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Pinafore crew

James Waud as Dick Deadeye. Pictures: Francis Loney

HMS Pinafore

Malvern Theatres

****

IN the wake of the vessel that was the all-male version of the Pirates of Penzance, Sasha Regan sails another ship of well-toned men on to the national stage with the good ship HMS Pinafore.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s much loved operetta not only gets a partial gender makeover, but a cool minimal underproduction that brings this much-loved and well known, yet 138-year-old, musical startlingly up to date.

From the minimal set of iron bed bunks to the minimal clothing, Regan certainly knows how to entice an audience. With several moments where the men strip off showing off their physiques for no reason other than it seems to put on something else on, she is either exercising some feminine power or cleverly adding an element of the peep show to her production.

Yet one wonders if it was an all-female cast if the same approach would have been taken with such a pinch of salt and snubbery of political correctness. However, the rule here seems to be if you have it, and most of the guys have, then flaunt it.

The iron beds, PT gear and pumps certainly casts a POW feel over the whole production and in doing so grants the production the license to be harmlessly camp and frivolous with its comedy.

Even before the show began and with the houselights still up, the cast saunter slowly onto stage and when one individual did a few solitary push ups, it instantly drew a full round of applause. That was either because most felt it beyond their own capability or eager for the rest of the all-male display that was about to come.

Regan is still aware of the fact that they are very gay overtones in the visual result and so this below decks love story is carefully choreographed to remain respectful to the sensiticaptainvities of any less than tolerant audience, and the wider audience.

At times it’s hard to suspend the belief that men are performing feminine roles as the romance is played very well and rightly so, but it seems to all be done ` in the best possible taste.’

There are no musical edits for the modern audience so fans of the piece will not be disappointed. However, I detected a few bars of Chariots of Fire that were comically shoe horned into the score when the men appear to be running in slow motion. This was the only injection of pantomime though that I heard.

Neil Moors as Caprtain Corcorans

Tom Senior makes an impressive Ralph Rackstraw with biceps to match. The athletic frame of Ben Irish is transformed with a few minor draperies into Josephine although some of his high falsetto notes penetrated the auditorium like a loose cannonball.

Neil Moors seemed to be the bearded daddy of them all and made a most amusing and likeable Captain Corcorans. Michael Burgen reminded me very much of Ronnie Corbett in the role of Joseph Porter with his spectacles, turned up trousers and sock suspenders. This was even more so when he adlibbed comically when his umbrella failed to open on cue.

David McKechnie was clearly singled for not wearing a singlet but contrasting blue denim to the others mostly pure white outfits. His transformation into Little Buttercup was perhaps an exercise in exaggerated camp but brought a great deal of physical comedy to the part.

Lizzi Gee’s choreography adds an air of the west end musical to the entire proceedings but the dancing, back flips and gymnastics add another layer to the entertainment for those that might be waning with the music.

Music Director, Richard Bates accompanies in this piano-only version of the score but with the strong added choreography, clever staging and lighting and the originality of the gender swap, a trio or even band would have added greater depth, effect and balance to the performance.

Whilst most would call Gilbert and Sullivan timeless it’s hardly at the top of a younger generation’s playlist on their electronic device of choice. This fresh, energetic version may not send the score on to the top of the download list but it sets a new younger appeal in motion that borders on the successful cabaret market.

This all-male H.M.S. Pinafore will keep the ladies occupied and the guys heading out to renew their gym memberships. It will make you laugh at the transformations and at our very British acceptance of our unique sense of humour. In the renewed recent climate of social tolerance and acceptance one phrase becomes poignant and memorable in this original and entertaining production:

For in spite of all temptations, To belong to other nations, He remains an Englishman!  He remains an Englishman!  To 09-07-16

Jeff Grant

05-07-16 

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