H.M.S. Pinafore & Trial By Jury

H.M.S. Pinafore & Trial By Jury
Wellington G&S Light Opera
Southward Theatre, Kapiti

Gilbert & Sullivan are, let’s face it, not for everyone. What was theatrical comfort food for the Victorians now seems uncomfortably white and twee, although credit must still be given to Sullivan’s pop hooks and Gilbert’s subversive humour. It’s not their fault that they’re so damn easy to parody.

Trial By Jury was one of their first collaborations, and set the tone for Savoy operas for the next twenty years. The staging is very old-fashioned, in a series of tableaux, which forces attention upon the principal singers and anyone who happens to be furiously gurning in the background. Often there was more gurning than actual acting. Coughing, twitching, even the simple act of swallowing a peppermint results in a bout of visual Tourette’s that would embarrass even Marcel Marceau and cause psychologists in the audience to murmur something about histrionic personality disorder. The last Wgtn G&S Light Opera production I saw was The Mikado in the State Opera House many years ago, and one of the chorus members was holding a cigar and mugging to such an extent that I was almost compelled to stand and shout “STOP THAT FUCKING TWITCHING, YOU DREADFUL OLD HAM! YOU’RE COMPLETELY TAKING ME OUT OF THE MOMENT!”

Anyway, I was there to see the lovely Megan singing the rather thankless role of Josephine in H.M.S. Pinafore. The romantic leads in G&S are fairly bland, and the hero was reserving his voice for the evening performance, but she acquitted herself excellently. The crew’s sailor costumes were strongly reminiscent of jammies, but I have no sympathy for grown men who audition for G&S and expect not to look silly. Pricelessly, during ‘Carefully on Tiptoe Stealing’ a thunderstorm struck, rattling the entire theatre:

CREW: Carefully on tiptoe stealing,
Breathing gently as we may,
Every step with caution feeling,
We will softly steal away.
THUNDER: KRACKBAROOOMBLE!
ALL: (much alarmed) Goodness me —
Why, what was that?
DICK DEADEYE: Silent be,
It was the cat!

It was the oldest audience I’ve ever sat in, and at one point they rocked with laughter when someone shrieked “He’s fallen in the water!” A sixty-year-old radio joke? Hell, yes.

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