“Mess-mates, a-hoy!” The H.M.S Pinafore rehearsals are in ship shape and it’s full steam ahead for a preview audience next week.
It’s a pleasure being privy to the playground that is the H.M.S rehearsal room. There’s constant laughter at its fanciful language, the cast’s limitless improvisation and the overall folly of a camp take on a classic text.
With long days in a very cold, dark rehearsal room in the bowels of the Concourse at Chatswood, the company’s spirits are buoyed by the fun being had. Concept pictures line the walls (lurid Mardi Gras make-up, paper sets, sparkly metallic curtains and Victorian costumes), party lights have been hung and cast members don trial ‘salty dog’ tattoos while assistant stage manager Dan sits in the corner sewing lavender feathers to a chiffon robe.
This quirky, balls-to-the-wall, take on the classic Gilbert and Sullivan operetta is a mix of the absurd, the eccentric, the dignified and the theatrical. The stripping away of traditional gender stereotypes in this production is its stroke of genius, an example of how a director with vision – Kate Gaul in this case – can inject new life into a vintage text.
Kate’s directing style balances her vision and clarity of thought with a sense of play, allowing actors to make their own discoveries as they navigate the text. There’s constant encouragement to make offers, improvise and find purpose in the work, while always being mindful of motivation and the clarity of intention.
It’s a motley crew of performers hailing from opera, musical theatre, cabaret, film, television and stage, an eclectic mix making absolute sense as a whole, forming a skilful company.
Siren Theatre Company regular Thomas Campbell is entirely watchable, pottering about in a full-length cotton skirt for his role as Buttercup. His exquisitely connected performance unexpectedly swings between raucously comedic and candidly raw.
Classically trained Katherine Allen plays Josephine and cuts through the air with her extraordinary soprano voice, forcing everyone to stand to attention, awe struck.
Tobias Cole brings a deft dignity and maturity to the role of Captain Corcoran, in strict contrast to Rory O’Keeffe, playing Sir Joseph Porter with flamboyant fervour.
This chamber version of H.M.S Pinafore sees music director, Zara Stanton playing the piano on stage, accompanied by Dominic Lui on violin.
The pair at times interchange instruments and join in as part of the action. Zara also plays the cello, clarinet and piano accordion. I’m amazed and exhausted just watching her do it all.
Cast members also play various instruments, utilising existing skills and pushing the broad-stroke comedy with trumpet, harmonica, guitar, tambourine and sleigh bells. The ‘all-in’ energy of the company is infectious. Ash Bee’s choreography is jovial and idiosyncratic. She’s focused, works quietly and is always malleable as the cast make new offers within the process, detailing and layering the work.
It’s entertaining watching the cast try and get their mouths around Gilbert and Sullivan’s ingeniously written text. There are some intricate tongue twisters in this work and some sentences spanning more than 50 words. Getting tongues around the dialogue is a tricky business, but when they grasp it, it’s scintillating to listen to – and hey, who doesn’t love some adept alliteration and a pack of punchy plosives?
It’s delightful to see a group of creatives so engaged in the artistic process, focusing on doing the work (and Gilbert and Sullivan) justice.
As I watch the cast wave red and yellow flags and toss plastic beach balls about the stage space, I have no doubt audiences and landlubbers alike will love this unique and enchanting version of the H.M.S Pinafore at the Hayes Theatre. Pulsing and triumphant, it’s a little like magic in a bottle.