ONE of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular works, and certainly one of their most toured, HMS Pinafore is a jolly romp aboard the ship of Captain Corcoran. This production, by the popular Opera della Luna company, promises to be a gloriously far-fetched and entertaining retelling of one of history’s funniest operas.
Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty, who has never been away from shore, intends to marry the captain’s daughter, Josephine.
Josephine has other plans, though, having fallen in love with common sailor Ralph, and, against her father’s will, she plans to elope with him.
The story unfolds into a social satire, looking at the relationships between different classes, first impressions and, of course, in Gilbert and Sullivan style, the audience discover that things might not be all they seem.
Taking the role of the fantastically ignorant Sir Joseph Porter is Gilbert and Sullivan staple Simon Butteriss. He is one of just eight cast members who frantically scamper on and off the stage, switching roles as they go.
“It is quite hectic, but it works very neatly,” he said.
“Instead of having a steady chorus, we all start off as sailors in the chorus and one by one we leave the stage and come back on as our character. And instead of having a gaggle of aunts, cousins and sisters, we have one of each, and one of them doubles up as the ugly deformed sailor Dick Deadeye, so there’s extra folly to be had with that.”
Simon has performed with some of the best companies in the world, including D’Oyly Carte Opera and Carl Rose Opera, but he says that touring with Opera della Luna, who have put their own spin on the comic story, is always enjoyable.
“I come from a background of doing more-traditional Gilbert and Sullivan pieces, but I love working with this company because we get to tour smaller venues, in a more intimate setting,” he said.
“I think that Opera della Luna have found the way forward for Gilbert and Sullivan, because they’ve found a way of staging it that appeals to all audiences. Whereas, in the past, younger audiences may have found it fussy and old fashioned, it has now been updated, while still retaining love for the original copy. It bridges that gap very well. And of course we don’t have a chorus. It has been reinvented in a sense, but very ingeniously.
“It’s a lovely show to look at, too. It’s very clever because, when you take your seat, you think it’s going to be a very puritanical production, with a black screen and a few props hanging from wires. But during the overture, we all come on dressed as sailors and gradually build the ship in front of the audience. It’s a delight to watch. When I came to see it before getting the part of Sir Joseph, I was squealing with joy throughout.”
For Simon, who initially became interested in the famous duo’s work through the Cambridge University Gilbert and Sullivan Society, the role of Sir Joseph is a glorious one.
“He’s such a misguided character, bless him,” said Simon.
“He’s the standard Gilbert idiot; a self-important person who’s completely hopeless at his job and appallingly hypocritical. At one point, he says: ‘A British sailor is any man’s equal, excepting mine,’ which is rich for someone who has the job title of First Lord of the Admiralty, and yet has no naval qualifications. He’s joyously deluded.
“He’s precisely what I love about Gilbert and Sullivan. I could never decide whether I wanted to act or sing, and their productions allow me to feed both appetites, with a healthy dose of humour.”
Simon believes that the Opera della Luna production of HMS Pinafore will entertain audiences in the north-east, whether they be traditionalists or newcomers to the genre.
“We have our own little following now; people know to expect the unexpected,” he said.
“We play to an extraordinary mix, from the matrons one associates with Gilbert and Sullivan to young and trendy types. It’s fantastic. We’ve had front rows packed with young children who have had a great time.
“The venues we’re playing are fantastic – HM Theatre in Aberdeen has wonderful acoustics, and the atmosphere in the theatre in Perth will be so intimate. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing like the excitement of standing on stage at La Scala, Milan. But I love having that connection with a smaller audience, having them in the palm of my hand. Nothing beats it.”
HMS Pinafore is at Perth Theatre tomorrow and Saturday. For tickets call 01738 621 031. The production is at HM Theatre on Tuesday, June 8, and Wednesday, June 9. For tickets call 01224 641122.