Over a century since HMS Pinafore, Gilbert and Sullivan’s anti-establishment, whimsical Victorian musical was first staged, people are still finding ways to reinvent it and widen its appeal.
And in an age where the vast majority of the population has only encountered The Lass that Loved a Sailor in a scene from The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob sings the entire repertoire in order to satisfy Bart’s last wish, the musical is in dire need of updating.
HMS Pinafore is a classic romance that combines humour with class struggle, themes that will always endear it to a cynical British audience.
Josephine, the captain’s daughter, falls in love with Ralph Rackstraw, a poor foremast hand, but her father intends for her to marry the First Lord of the Admiralty.
Somehow, Josephine and Ralph must find a way to be together; but when an old secret is revealed, their world is turned upside-down.
The Union Theatre’s version asserts itself as a tongue-in-cheek performance with an all-male cast.
The Union is a family-run theatre in Southwark that takes pride in debuting the work of new writers and directors, but by anyone’s standards, this camp musical is a fairly brave choice.
From the main characters to the ensemble, the entire cast have strong voices with incredible range. The vocal side of the musical is flawless.
The pervy, childish Sir Joseph Porter, played by Christopher Howell, is hilarious.
Actor Alex Weatherhill exceeds expectations by playing three female characters (Josephine, Cousin Hebe and Mrs Cripps) and by reaching notes higher than the crow’s nest.
But sometimes his many aliases can be confusing, especially because at just over an hour in length, the storyline moves quickly. Stop for a moment to adjust your eye-patch, and you’ll miss the vital plot twists.
The choreography is entertaining, but the stage of this tiny theatre is a little too restricting, and results in a near miss with an audience member nearly getting kicked by a ballet-slippered bosun.
Nonetheless, a bigger theatre would lose the magic of this performance, the key to which lies in the close proximity between beaming stripy sailors and the audience.
HMS Pinafore is showing at the Union Theatre in Southwark until August 12th. Tickets cost £8 to £12.
UNION THEATRE Union Street SE1 020 7261 9876
Tube: Borough, Cannon Street, Southwark.
Rail: London Bridge, Cannon Street
Bus: 21 35 40 133 149 344 P3 P11