Carl Rosa Pinafore
Tom Baker, as Sir Joseph Porter KCB, in the Carl Rosa Pinafore at the Regent Theatre - Hanley - Stoke on Trent
We went to the magnificent Regent Theatre in Stoke on Trent to watch this year’s G&S production – The Carl Rosa Pinafore. This is a very large theatre and was only about a quarter full – although Thursday nights are their most quiet nights despite the special offers available.
After all the performances we attend each year at the Buxton Festival it is now quite strange to go to a G&S production which does not start off with Ian or Neil Smith trying to sell us some memorabilia and raffle tickets! We went straight into the overture which was whisked along at a good pace by the conductor Richard Balcombe.
The curtain went up to reveal basically an empty stage with a HUGE crate (about 25 feet square) just to the right of centre stage. Various sailors came on and examined this crate but it was left to the boatswain to blow his whistle to have the “crate” lifted to reveal the set – which folded out neatly to take up about 2/3 of the stage. It was the deck, captain’s cabin and wheel-house of a ship from about the turn of the century (1900??) This was really well constructed and I particularly enjoyed the satisfying clunk with which the doors closed after actor had gone through them. On the drawing below the written part has not come out very well so I have put the words above and below:-
Backcloth painted with sky and sea Moon projected in act 2 Wheel House
White canvas flats to represent sails Rigging White canvas flats
Stage painted blue Entrance from the sea Bell Captains Cabin
Set angled at about 20o to the stage front Edge of stage Set as used for Carl Rosa Pinafore 30th Oct 2003
The sailors came on to the “ship” and they went about their business – really well directed – each with specific tasks to carry out. They were in smart white uniforms of the time with white straw hats. They sang the opening chorus very well. The boatswain was directing the operations and he proved to be a very good actor and singer.
Little Buttercup came on with lots of “goodies”. As she sang her song the sailors all lined up to one side of her and selected their wares – they then moved over to the boatswain who had picked up her “cash-box” – he took the money from those sailors who had some and put others into the IOU book for payment later. Buttercup gave a competent performance although I felt that she could have projected more what was a delightful voice. She did not have that little “twinkle” which I always look for in a Buttercup – she just got on with the job in a competent manner.
Dick Deadeye was a major disappointment – not for his acting or singing which were both good – but for his costume. The only way in which I could tell him from the other sailors was the fact that he wore spectacles and one of the lenses was blacked out!!! No smelly, dirty three-cornered person here but a semi-intellectual – the only sailor with a book!
Eventually it was possible to see which of the sailors was Ralph. He was a bit of a disappointment – I think it was perhaps more the fact that I had wished it was going to be Nick Sales – so anyone else would have had a struggle to please me???? Having said that, Richard Cox performed well –I felt that he had difficulty with the higher notes in the songs – he seemed to round his mouth during these and as a result the diction suffered. His spoken parts were very clear. He certainly threw himself into the part. With a good Madrigal and a sound “A Maiden Fair to See”
The Captain, played by David Stephenson, plus another officer, entered from the wheel-house – he had a super voice and it was obvious from the onset that he was in charge of this ship! Great interaction between him and the crew as they greeted each other.
Josephine entered (Anne Bourne) and for me she was the star of the show. What a wonderful voice and how well she delivered her lines. She was in the action all the time – never letting her attention slip. How she recoiled at the thought that she was to meet Sir Joseph shortly – eventually throwing his photo into the sea!
Sir Joseph’s barge was spotted from the wheel-house and all the sailors rushed out to spot the girls. Much fun was had with the smallest sailor who was constantly being pushed out of the way (but what a magnificent dancer he was!) The girls came on – they were all in wonderful dresses and they moved about the stage so professionally creating a super sound.
Sir Joseph Porter came on – Colin Baker of Dr. Who fame. He had put on so much weight that Sir Joseph Portly might have been appropriate? He was very good in the part – clear singing and good diction. He moved very well over the stage – in fact he was the quickest to mount the rather treacherous stairs from the deck to the wheel-house. He, like Buttercup, lacked that little extra which would have made it a great part – he was competent but was no Alistair Donkin, Richard Suart or Simon Butteriss.
The sailors had great fun with “A British Tar” and then Ralph and Josephine had wonderful interaction as he is spurned in “Refrain audacious tar”.
Ralph decides to end it all and, unusually, decides to kill himself by hanging! To do this he tied a rope to the support on deck and then, putting the noose around his neck, proceeds to the edge of the ship ready to throw himself off – Josephine spots him from the Wheel house and says that she loves him - lots of Joy and Rapture. Dick tries to put the dampers on the situation but they brush him off and celebrate the forthcoming elopement with much cavorting and fun to bring the first act to a delightful close.
Act two opens to the same scene – but now everything is set in moonlight. Buttercup is still on board and Hebe comes to her and they discuss the happenings of the day as the orchestra plays a little introduction. Then we have the Captain’s song – and very well he does it – this is often a low point in many productions but this time the Captain makes the most of it. He sings from the balcony in front of the wheel-house. He and Buttercup have great fun with “Things are seldom as they seem” – lots of Tarot cards, crystal balls, palm reading, etc. – the captain obviously fancies her!
Sir Joseph comes back to say that Josephine will not do. Josephine, now dressed in a delightful black evening dress, sings a wonderful “The hours creep on apace” explaining to us all in a most moving manner the decisions she has to make. Sir Joseph is persuaded by the captain to tell her that love levels all ranks – which he does and this leads to a lively “Never mind the Why and Wherefore”. Lots of energetic movement and dance here! Sir Joseph rings the ships bell and is reprimanded by the captain – he ends up ringing the bell to the engine room and is harangued by one of the sailors in greasy overalls wielding a spanner.
Deadeye comes on to tell the captain about the plot – Deadeye is wearing a boat cloak and when the captain removes it from him to hide behind Deadeye is revealed wearing only his “long-johns”. The crew come onto the deck – they are now in smart blue trousers with blue jackets and hats.
The captain stops them from leaving and he is so angry that he utters the big “D” word several times – all of which are overheard by the sisters, cousins and aunts and Sir Joseph – who is utterly aghast. The ladies are now in evening wear – what wonderful costumes. The captain is sent to his cabin and Ralph gets similar treatment when Sir Joseph finds out what angered the captain. As usual Buttercup sorts it all out and the two come back on in reversed roles and costumes.
An excellent production – very traditional with an excellent chorus. The costumes were wonderful as was the make-up. The set was a delight and the company made great use of it – I really liked the way it was at an angle to the stage – it you feel more part of the production some how?
It is just a pity that an area the size of the Stoke-on-Trent conurbation could not muster a greater audience that were present tonight although those present were very enthusiastic.