Pros: An uplifting and energetic piece that will leave you feeling ship shape!
Cons: Playing for gags a little too hard at points, which makes it slightly tiresome to concentrate the whole way through the piece.
A seafaring voyage at the Hackney Empire will leave you ready to hoist anchor and set sail into the unparalleled world of Sasha Reagan’s H.M.S. Pinafore! This is a night of high drama, flamboyance and all the classical flare you would expect from a Gilbert and Sullivan piece. A cast of all male actors take on the difficult task of playing both butch sailors and flimsy female ingénues, getting many a laugh from the engaged crowd. It is refreshing to see such a traditional piece, containing Shakespearean dialogue and classical ballet, given a new lease on life. Reagan has obviously added her own flavour to the piece; the interesting set design and addition of modern day gags are only a couple of examples of this.
The performance on a whole is a mishmash of musical theatre, opera, classical dance and Elizabethan drama, to mention only a few. It’s a grand affair that’s well suited to the Empire’s newly refurbished interior and rich red, draped curtains that frame the piece sublimely. The set is plain as you enter the space: besides three metal bunk beds and several overhanging ship lanterns, the piece takes on a rather minimalist approach. It’s a clever, considering the grandness of the whole affair, since the stripped back background allows the melodrama before it to really shine.
The musical score, very much like Gilbert and Sullivan’s famous Pirates of Penzance, has numbers which require tight harmonies, refined movement patterns and, at some points, an ability to glide across the space quite seamlessly. Torches are switched on and off gradually throughout the songs set in the evening and, as the lights dim, the whole cast suddenly swaps positions around the theatre. Lady-boys dance in the orchestra pit, the captain tiptoes around the upper circle and, best of all, several clueless audience members are shocked as sailors pop up from around their seats.
The language oozes style and sophistication, and at some points characters break into highly complex dialogue that others mimic to sound intelligent. Some characters also speak directly to the audience during moments of thought, which clashes with the deeply naturalistic acting we are used to seeing on stage today. It’s a pleasure seeing such an expressive and old-fashioned work given a new lease on life and bringing back past trends that seemed a hit with the entire audience.
Overall, H.M.S. Pinafore is a passionate and energised performance which sees Reagan once again push the boat out (no pun intended) and deliver a piece full of guts and glamour to the London stage. This fine work travels around the UK from May, and it will have you giggling out of your seats and leaving the theatre feeling well and truly ship shape.
Authors: W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
Director: Sasha Regan
Musical Director: Will Keith
Choreographer: Lizzi Gee
Box Office: 020 8985 2424
Booking Link: http://www.hackneyempire.co.uk/4988/shows/hms-pinafore.html
Booking Until: 1 May 2016, and then until 23 July 2016 on tour