Thursday, 2 June 2011

For he himself has said it

Alright, I've procrastinated on this long enough about this. HMS Pinafore!

My favourite of all the G&S shows, also one of the best known and most popular, and the only one so far which I have performed more than once. The fourth show Gilbert and Sullivan wrote together, and, I believe, the first to be a really massively big hit.
It's worth mentioning at this point that the two productions I was in (One last February, the other about two and a half weeks ago) were rather different - the first was fairly traditional, while the more recent was updated to the 1940s - the patriotic feeling working well for wartime - and otherwise messed about with. The latter I will refer to as the Dauntless production, as it was done by Dauntless Theatre (in collaboration with NUGSS).
OK, I realise most of my readers will already be entirely aware of that, having been involved in or seen one or both productions, and where they weren't involved will have heard things on facebook, but maybe some day I'll catch the interest of people who didn't know all this.

Dramatis personae:
Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty - A genial buffoon promoted to a position for which he has no aptitude whatever. Believed to be at least partly based on the real First Lord of the Admiralty of the time, a Mr. W.H. Smith, who, like Sir Joseph, had never actually had anything to do with the navy prior to receiving the position.
Dauntless had him with the air of an overgrown public schoolboy - a comparison was made in the character notes to George from Blackadder, which just seemed perfect to me.
Captain Corcoran - The captain of the Pinafore is portrayed as a fairly reasonable and generous man, and a good officer - but he is rather set in his ways, and feels quite strongly about the hierarchy of social rank.
Ralph Rackstraw - (Reminder, Ralph is pronounced 'Rafe') The romantic lead. Fairly standard romantic tenor stuff, but to my mind the best romantic tenor part there is. My favourite role in all of G&S (I think I've mentioned that before).
Dauntless Ralph was a recovering alcoholic. I'll be honest, not a character interpretation about which I'm overly enthusiastic, though I can understand the rationale behind it and it makes a certain amount of sense. I just love traditional Ralph though.
Dick Deadeye - Antagonistic. All the other characters dislike him, abotu which he's resentful. At times it actually seems like anything he says, the other characters will automatically disagree with, even if it makes perfect sense. And sometimes he is the one saying the thing that would make sense in the real world, but it's rejected by the others because this is topsy-turvy G&S World.
Dauntless interpretation had him more creepy and unpalatable rather than angry, which I loved.
Boatswain - Voice of the chorus, basically. Gets the Englishman song. Generally just dependably there. Kind of a glorified chorus member to be honest.
Carpenter - A less glorified chorus member. Basically I think he exists because they needed someone to sing the bass part in the trio. In my first production he was specifically pitted against Deadeye, and nailed him into a box at one point.
Dauntless made him the Cook instead of the Carpenter and gave him one spoken line, but he's still not much of a character without the director specifically giving him something special to do.

Josephine - Captain Corcoran's daughter. Haughty and proud, but also in love with Ralph, despite his low rank. Agonises about this to a certain extent, but eventually goes with love.
Cousin Hebe - Sir Joseph's cousin, she adores him, while he is somewhere between oblivious to and irritated by her. But she keeps trying. Doesn't have much to do, especially spoken lines, though there is a certain amount of dialogue which was cut out of the original performances but which is sometimes reinstated. And rightly so, because it's hilarious.
Dauntless added a second cousin called Phoebe, giving us a comedic double act, which worked very well.
Little Buttercup - Her real name is Mrs. Cripps, but that doesn't actually come up anywhere in the show, it just confuses people when they see it in the vocal score. A poor bumboat woman, who comes onboard the Pinafore to sell her wares and just doesn't leave. In love with the captain, but he's not interested because he's too proud. Delivers the crucial plot twist at the end of the show.

Rapid plot summary:
Ralph and Josephine are in love, but not telling each other because of the difference in rank between them. Corcoran and Buttercup similarly. Corcoran wants Josephine to marry Sir Joseph, who arrives with the admiring crowd of sisters, cousins and aunts that attend him wherever he goes (In Dauntless we had two sisters, two cousins as already mentioned, and one aunt. Reduced company style of thing). He disrupts everything by forwarding his view that a British sailor is any man's equal - excepting his. This prompts Ralph to pluck up the courage to talk to Josephine. She rejects him, but then he tries to commit suicide, so she admits she loves him. They plan to sneak away and get married and everyone is happy! End of Act 1.
Corcoran is unhappy because Sir Joseph's unhappy and causing his crew to be unruly. Buttercup claims to be able to read destinies, and says a change is in store for him. Josephine wavers, Sir Joseph tries to convince her to marry him and accidentally convinces her to go off with Ralph. Deadeye reveals their plan to Corcoran, who turns up and tries to stop them, despite the fact that Ralph is an Englishman. However, he gets so annoyed as to lose control and use the unforgiveable swearword "damme". So Sir Joseph sends him to his cabin. He asks Ralph what happened, Ralph reveals that he and Josephine are in love, and Sir Joseph sends him to the dungeon. But then Buttercup reveals that Ralph and the Captain were swapped at birth, so Ralph is really the captain, and Corcoran is just a lowly Able Seaman. So Josephine is now too lowly for Sir Joseph, and Ralph can marry her; Corcoran and Buttercup are of equal rank and can marry each other; and Sir Joseph marries Cousin Hebe because, well, there's no-one else left.

The first Pinafore I was in was, as I said, done in traditional style, so there's not that much I can say about it. The Dauntless production, however, was (and is, since we're taking it to the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival in Buxton come August) a very impressive case of managing to give the show a different feel without actually changing that much. Just the way things were performed, of course the addition of Phoebe to make the cousins a double act, and a few minor line changes. It was also a fairly immersive experience (Presumably it'll be less so in Buxton, though. Pity) with the hall decorated with union flags and posters and so on, air-raid sirens, the small orchestra being the ship's band, and the floor and the aisle being used by the performers at times. While it's certainly not all things I would want to do with a production of Pinafore (Though some of it is, and should I ever be directing a production of Pinafore it is highly likely I will steal some of those ideas), it was very good and well-thought out directing.
(I feel like I'm milking this praise a bit too much. Is it too much?)

Now, while all G&S shows have a significant element of romance, HMS Pinafore is the one where it really grabs me. Partly, I suppose, because it's basically the whole show. I mean, there are obvious themes of social rank and so on, but the alternative title is The Lass Who Loved a Sailor, and that's the show. The romance actually grabs me more than the comedy, at least in traditional versions. The Dauntless version was different. Much more comedic.
And while, yes, considering it realistically, Ralph saying he'll commit suicide if Josephine doesn't give him hope could be considered emotional blackmail, and he can't really know Josephine that well so it's really more on the level of lust than love. But, here's the thing. G&S doesn't happen in the real world. In G&S World, love at first sight can definitely exist, virtue is always triumphant, and so on. Well, that's kind of true for a lot of fiction, potentially any work of fiction, but G&S in particular very much follows that mould.

Back to my point, Pinafore is the romance for me, certainly out of G&S. It's unrealistic, and ridiculous, but it's also incredibly sweet if done right and I love it to bits.

Edit: Ahah! All of HMS Pinafore: The War Years is now up on youtube and in a playlist. Go watch it!
You can see me, playing the Boatswain, easily recognisable by dint of being the only cast member with facial hair.

I might edit this again with links to my first Pinafore, in which I played Ralph, if I can be bothered.

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