Review of HMS Pinafore in Ely Cathedral 1st May 2010

This was definitely a night for Gilbert and Sullivan addicts. After fun-packed workshops during the day the performance in the evening opened with more opportunities for the chorus (the audience) to get it right. Then, after interval, director Ian McMillan rallied chorus, orchestra, organist and a group of fine soloists from English National opera, D’Oyly Carte and London Operetta to produce a rollicking performance of H.M.S. Pinafore – what we were all waiting for.

Local talented individuals, Nina Jellicoe (from Cambridge Operatic Society) and Graham Diss (from Ely Choral Society) found themselves important roles as Hebe and the Boatswain respectively. Then our renowned orchestra, Ely Sinfonia led by Steve Bingham, and key characters Ralph Rackstraw (Oliver White), Josephine (Deborah Crowe), Little Buttercup (Jill Pert), Deadeye (Bruce Graham), Captain (John Lofthouse) and Sir Joseph Porter (Barry Clarke) unravelled the tale of mistaken identity, thwarted lovers and the hypocrisy of rank in the navy.

We were enthralled with the antics of Deadeye, his labored movements and non-attractive personality, the upright nobleness of the much troubled Ralph, the beauty and determination of Josephine, Little Buttercup’s jolly humour, the Captain’s snobbery and the utter pomposity of Sir Joseph. The strength of their characterization was matched perfectly with their rich tones, powerful voices and excellent diction that made light of Gilbert and Sullivan’s renowned rapid patter.

The strains of ‘we sail the ocean blue’, ‘I am the captain of the Pinafore’, ‘his sisters and his cousins and his aunts’, ‘when I was a lad …the ruler of the Queen’s navee’ ‘dear little buttercup’, and ‘he is an English man’ brought it all back to us and we were soon rising to our feet, waving our Union Jacks and singing to the top of our voices.

With prizes for the best costumes in the audience, this was definitely a night to remember and it is no wonder so many came from far afield to revel in this celebration of Gilbert and Sullivan. Next year it will be The Pirates of Penzance from scratch.

Before then you might like to see the performance recommended by Nina:  ‘The Mikado’ by Cambridge Operatic Society in the last week of November (tickets available from the Arts Box Office). Tickets for the ‘Pirates of Penzance from scratch’ in the Cathedral next year will be available from the Cathedral box office nearer the time.

 Rosemary Westwell

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