This was a Worcester On Stage (WOS) production; I'd not come across this company before, which wasn't too surprising as it seems they've only been going for about a year. There were, however, a few familiar faces from other shows I've seen in the last few months.
Things got off to a promising start with a charming re-orchestration of the overture for a small orchestra (9 musicians). Subsequent reading of the programme revealed that this was a new orchestration by Colin King, who was there tonight in the capacity of pianist.
The production was set in the 1950s (inspired by the company manager's recollection of a similar setting he'd seen at the Savoy Theatre in 2002), and involved minimal stage furniture - namely, a chair, which was well-used by various characters throughout the piece. During 'We sail the ocean blue' there were several saucily-dressed women on stage, who we then discovered were Buttercup and some of her 'girls', this Buttercup being in a slightly different business from the usual Mrs Cripps.
Coincidentally, I was commenting only last night that Buttercup was unusual among the 'old bag' characters (a term I heartily detest, perhaps because I identify a bit too closely with them), in that she is not described as being plain or unattractive - if anything, rather the opposite - and that she certainly shouldn't be portrayed as frumpy.
Well, tonight's Buttercup (Charlie Cameron) was about as far from frumpy as you could imagine, in a sexy red dress and red high heeled shoes; she was also a delightful actor with some wonderful facial expressions and she sang really well, although a bit more power would have been welcome at times.
Ralph was played by Tom Dalton, who we'd previously seen as Frederic in the Tinker's Farm production of Pirates. More good singing, especially in the lower part of his range, some amusing and beautifully-executed dancing (at the end of 'A British Tar') and excellent acting.
Josephine was sung superbly by Bella Harris, whom we don't seem to be able to escape from (but then, why would anyone want to?) We last saw her as Rose Maybud in Birmingham Uni G&S Soc's Ruddigore, and before that as Mabel in the Tinker's Farm Pirates. She has a gorgeous voice, and, I suspect, a bright musical future ahead of her.
WOS company manager Alan Feeney injected lots of character into his Captain Corcoran. An unexpected inclusion was 'Reflect my child' (which I only came across for the first time a few days ago while browsing my latest treasure from the Oxfam bookshop, Ian Bradley's fascinating Annotated G&S). As someone with a great interest in language, I was particularly taken with the second verse, and it was a real surprise to actually hear it performed tonight.
Dick Deadeye (nicely described in the programme synopsis as 'the embodiment of the ugly truth') was most ably performed by John Clay. His duet with Corcoran ('Kind captain I've important information') was one of the highlights of the evening.
A somewhat sickly Sir Joseph (Simon Satchwell-Giles) rarely managed to escape the determined attentions of Cousin Hebe (Claire Hardie), who was dressed in riding attire and brandishing a riding whip.
Both men's and women's choruses were rather small (about 5 people in each). Unusually for an amateur production, I'd say the men's chorus had the edge over the women's.
It's a long time since I've seen (as opposed to listened to) Pinafore, so I couldn't say what constitutes typical stage business and what counts as innovation, but here are some of the things I particularly enjoyed:
- At the start of 'A British Tar', Ralph has to keep turning the sheets of music held by the boatswain and his mate the right way up.
- In the dance following 'A British Tar', Ralph first does the dance by himself, and is then copied by the other sailors. The midshipmite initially pulls faces and struggles to copy the moves, but by the end of the dance has got the hang of it and is happily dancing away with all the others.
- In 'Things are seldom what they seem', both Buttercup and Corcoran's facial expressions and gestures make it abundantly clear that they have no idea what the other is on about, even as they sing 'Yes I know, that is so' etc.
I've been pondering too on the alternative title for Pinafore, 'the Lass Who Loved a Sailor'. I'd always assumed that the lass in question was Josephine, but couldn't it apply just as well to Buttercup?
Returning from my rambling digression to this evening's show, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. The acting, the singing, and the musical accompaniment were all delightful. A bigger chorus would have been nice, but what would have been even nicer is a bigger audience. This was the last night of a 5 night run (plus Saturday matinee), and I'd have expected the Saturday night performance to attract the biggest numbers. Quite possibly it did, in which case some of the other evenings must have been very sparsely attended indeed, which is a tremendous pity, since this fun, flirty production deserved much, much better.