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H.M.S. Pinafore

By saying goodbye to patriotic flag-waving, H.M.S. Pinafore offers a message to all those lost at sea, writes director Kate Gaul.

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H.M.S. Pinfore: Wave Hello

Date: 4 Jan 2021

What a pleasure to be bringing H.M.S Pinafore back to Sydney in 2021.

Having started life at Hayes Theatre, the production was created with the knowledge that it would do a New South Wales tour at the beginning of 2020. We completed it just before the first COVID lockdown.

This meant that the show would move from the tiny black box in Kings Cross to larger proscenium arch stages around the state. In order to prepare for that, designer Melanie Liertz created a design that could breathe up and out once we got on the road.

The collision of the 19th century and the 21st century was an important touchstone for creating the production. The miniature paper theatres of the Victorian age are an inspiration for the elevated stage, sitting in a larger space which I call ‘the present’.

I’m originally from Tasmania and beautiful Theatre Royal in Hobart looms large in my imagination.

It is a Georgian theatre with walls carved by convicts and built notably, shipmen who were used to working with the materials of the theatre in another context – at sea.

The ropes, pulleys canvas and timber on a boat became the stuff of magic in the theatre. A working theatre (of yesteryear) – with all of its low tech brilliance becomes the world on deck H.M.S Pinafore with its cast and crew of sailors, lovers, admirals, gang-planks, and bum-boats.

Like a message in a bottle, the production unfolds, transforms, and delivers a dispatch of love – and that love is love no matter who you are.

My intention is to excite audiences with the piece as Gilbert and Sullivan did in 1878.

Reducing the cast, gender swapping some roles and re-thinking how the music is delivered opened many creative doors to explore the collision of the 19th and 21st centuries in which the piece originated. I am also interested in theatre of the past and how it intersects with our feminism and gender politics.

Pinafore‘s themes of social divide, obsession with social status, party politics and patriotism feel fresh today.

Gilbert and Sullivan managed to put all sorts of messages thinly disguised behind light-heartedness. In the context of the changes to the Marriage Equality Act in Australia the production has a deeper resonance.

Rather than ending the show with a celebration of British rule, we subvert the usual flag waving and use semaphore to spell out LOVE IS LOVE as the lights slowly fade. The production reinforces that no struggle is ever entirely over.

I like to think that the production sends a message to all those lost at sea.

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