Light-hearted and amusing, with vocals of outstanding quality.
This week, the proud and passionate LOpSoc produced a promising rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore, with the overall motive being to entertain the audience and showcase their talents. This was more or less achieved thanks the energy and efforts of the cast, however there were serious aspects of the performance that demanded vast improvement.
Firstly, I really enjoyed the staging. It is very simple yet open in its design, using a variety of different levels and entrances which gives a great dynamic to the larger ensemble scenes. I also liked how the open set helps the audience feel a part of the ship, and therefore the crew. Moreover, the authenticity of the props and costumes, such as the Carpenter’s Mate’s belt and the iconic steering wheel, further capture the audience’s imagination.
Personally, I would have liked to have seen some sort of pre-show or quiet acting before the opening, as it would set the tone and give the performers more of a chance to ease into their respective characters. The ensemble, despite their energy later in the show, take a while to get into a comfortable rhythm – although maybe this came down to second night complacency.
Nevertheless, the ensemble are an important asset to the show, as their energy delivers an amicable and hearty performance throughout. Although at times the uncertainty and hesitancy towards the dancing detracts from this, the overall vocal performance of the ensemble is highly commendable; the harmonies are almost faultless and the strength behind their projection helps to round out the sound effectively. The musical directors should take pride in what they have achieved with such a large cast.
The stand-out performer throughout the production is alumni student Owen Perring. His characterisation of Sir Joseph Porter is brilliantly caricatured; the accent and comic speech impediment is very well executed, and his ability to remain perfectly motionless while frozen (barely blinking once!) is a testament to the amount he threw at that character. Credit must also go to Alex Blelloch (Cousin Hebe) who gels well with Perring; their comic timing and delivery are crucial in portraying their enjoyably dysfunctional relationship.
LOpSoc veteran Alexander Conway also gives a good performance, playing the role of Boatswain’s Mate competently. Firstly, Conway should also be commended for his excellent piece of improvisation on the night, saving the barber’s quartet sequence, which clearly went drastically wrong. He delivers a splendid vocal performance, and his interaction with Oliver French (Carpenter’s Mate) was a success with the audience throughout. However, I did find his background acting distracting, as it regularly shifted the focus from the main action of the piece.
Despite this, Conway’s and French’s acting is strong and confident which was pleasing to see, as some members of the cast seemed rather uncomfortable in places, which translates through to the audience. I felt if they exuded the same confidence in acting and dancing as they did in their singing it wouldn’t have fallen to be so lacklustre at times.
This was summed up by the lead Tom Hudson (Ralph Rackstraw), who seems very wooden and tense in his character, despite his endearing vocal performance. Although his portrayal of a self-assured and dashing matinée idol is lost from time to time, I did enjoy the tender moments he creates with Jenny Riggs (Josephine).
Riggs, in particular, throws everything at the role. Her heartfelt and earnest performance creates a lot of empathy for her character, however I felt at times she struggled with breath control in her solo numbers, and therefore with the gravitas of the challenging singing role. However, despite this she should be proud of her performance, as I believed she shows potential – it just wasn’t her night. One note for the costume designer would be to avoid putting the leading lady in a colour that completely blends in with the colour of the set.
Her relationship with Hudson is portrayed as juvenile and innocent rather than passionate, which did make me feel at times like I was watching a school production, as personally I felt the relationship lacked grit in the more tragic moments of the piece. However, this contrasts nicely with the more lustful relationship between Ben Cousins (Captain Corcoran) and Jenny Samuel (Mrs. Cripps/Little Buttercup). Both Cousins and Samuel have very strong and confident voices, and they both use this to their advantage when portraying the status of their respective characters; despite the quality of her vocals, I felt personally that the overuse of vibrato and the hyperbolised facial expressions become tiresome and rather forced.
Finally, it would be unfair not to mention Jack Houghton and his extremely antagonistic representation of Dick Deadeye. He became an audience favourite from the very start, and remains in character successfully throughout. However, his performance is so overdone that I couldn’t help but feel I was watching a pantomime, and this was fully endorsed when the audience playfully booed the actor during the bows. Although this produced an enthusiastic audience response throughout, it reminded me that I was watching a very amateur production.
Overall, I enjoyed the evening. It was light-hearted and the audience left entertained, which in my opinion, was the most important thing. This was thanks to the fantastic effort of everyone involved, and particularly the outstanding quality of the vocals, which never fails to disappoint in a LOpSoc show. Nevertheless, I felt there were aspects of the performance that need vast improvements, and this came down to the fact that a lot of the cast either felt uncomfortable in their ability as actors and dancers, or the performances were extremely overplayed. Hopefully this will be addressed in future productions.
The final performance of H.M.S. Pinafore is tonight at 7.30pm, at The Annex Theatre. Tickets are available on the door.