In place of the original Victorian man'o'war we climb aboard a submarine in CBBC colours, the close quarters a perfect fit for this teeny theatre. Elegant Captain Corcoran and his crew of, er, three prepare for the visit of the 'ruler of the Queen's Navee', Sir Joseph Porter. When not nurturing the martime career for which he is, by his own cheerful admission, totally unqualified, he is in pursuit of the captain's lovely daughter, a Jackie Kennedy lookalike in Rachel Szmukler's 60s-influenced design.
But Josephine is in love with a common rating, and he with her. Will they ever tell their love? Will love conquer all? You bet. But there's much fun to be had to on the way. John Savournin directs this show with the wit and ingenuity that leave bigger companies standing. They could do with him at English National Opera.
Every inch counts on H.M.S. Pinafore. Photo: Robert Workman
Sir Joseph's outlandish first entry is a masterstroke, and this is a winning performance by Joseph Shovelton as the self-congratulatory peer. Matthew Palmer, one of several Mikado returnees, is an eager and urbane Corcoran, whose lovely singing is rewarded with that great Act II paeon to the moon. Philip Lee is Ralph Rackstraw, the rather too rough-and-ready lover of Josephine, but the scintillating performance by Alys Roberts makes her an artist to listen out for not only here with Charles Court, but elsewhere on the circuit. She has already made her mark with first-rate talent-spotters Opera Holland Park.
Wherever Sir Joseph goes, librettist WS Gilbert had him accompanied by 'his sisters and his cousins, who he reckons up by dozens, and his aunts'. There's not a lot of room on a sub for that entourage, but we have quirky Cousin Hebe (Catrine Kirkman), an aunt who appears in a most unexpected form, and (briefly) one sister, sketched in by Jennie Jacobs, whose main role in the evening is that of Little Buttercup, a seller of trinkets and the captain's soulmate.
Emotional entanglements snag on the difference between the social class of the lovers. But 'love can level ranks', as the Act II trio goes so winsomely, and that will fix everything, especially once Buttercup spills the beans...
Cousin Hebe (Catrine Kirkman, in blue shorts) and Sir Joseph's sister (Jennie Jacobs) light up the stage. Photo: Robert Workman
Musical director David Eaton pulls off another feat, serving up Arthur Sullivan's rich score from the keyboard.
HMS Pinafore first opened in London on 25 May 1878 and ran for 571 performances. As many as 150 unauthorised productions were staged in the US, which loved the operettas by librettist WS Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan almost as much as Victorian Britain. It's a great operetta for older children too: a version especially for children was a huge success in its day. It was lovely to see youngsters on the front row.
As long as self-regarding nobodies bluff their way to the top in British public life, as long as the accident of birth alone determines your likely route from cradle to grave, as long as English exceptionalism keeps it adrift from the realities of modern life, Gilbert and Sullivan are right on the money. In other words, H.M.S. Pinafore never goes out of fashion. G&S4EVA!
H.M.S. Pinafore is sung in English. Performances are Tuesday to Sunday, with matinees on some Saturdays and Sundays
|What||H.M.S. Pinafore review , King's Head Theatre, Islington|
|Where||The King's Head Theatre, 115 Upper St, N1 1QN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
10 Apr 19 – 11 May 19, 7:00 PM – 9:15 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|