Regent Pinafore

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D’Oyly Carte in the Potteries!


The D'Oyly Carte trailer parked outside the Regent

On Thursday (5th Oct 2000) we went along to the Regent Theatre in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, to see HMS Pinafore.  What a treat it was!  To start with it was the first time I had been to the Regent since its refurbishment was completed just over a year ago. It is now quite magnificent with comfortable seating affording excellent views of the stage.  The décor has kept much of the original fixtures and plasterwork and the colour scheme is very appropriate. 

The opera started with the curtains opening to reveal a delightful gauze depicting two steaming ships coming towards us out of the stage.  One had a figure of Josephine as its figurehead whist the other had Ralph.  Between the two was a caricature of Buttercup spanning the two ships with a lifebelt above her head with the title of the opera in it.  The orchestra performed the overture in a brisk and competent manner under the direction of Richard Balcombe. 

As the overture came to an end we were presented with the set – I cannot remember if it was a fade through the gauze or it was lifted – I was so amazed by the set.  A large steam ship was coming out of the stage towards us – the prow lifted up and we could see the deck, the mast and six large ventilator funnels.  The sailors, in what I took to be 1930’s uniform were busy on deck – slightly more agitated than we usually see them – perhaps because of the use of step ladders and various other parts to climb?  What struck me straight from the onset was the discipline and crispness of the choreography – complex movements all in time and very sharp. 

Buttercup then entered – played by Jill Pert – a plump and pleasing person in all respects.  She sang well and flirted with the sailors as she tried to sell them her wares.

Dick Deadeye came on – played by Simon Wilding - he became one of the stars of the performance as the opera progressed. He was not made up to look too horrid – just seemed to have had a black eye from where we were sitting.  He had a powerful bass voice and made the most of his “northern” accent. 

Ralph then told his shipmates of his love for Josephine – he did this on a very tall stepladder. 

Ralph was played by Joseph Shovelton – we wondered if he was related to Geoffrey Shovelton – once he sang and with his facial expressions we were convinced that he was.  It was later confirmed to me, in an email from Joe, that "Genealogical studies can reveal that the connection goes back to the 1750's, my great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather and his great, great, great, great grandfather were brothers" (Joseph Shovelton - 10th October 2000)

Joe had a magnificent voice – the whole range came effortlessly and with clarity and good diction. 

The captain entered, in a very smart uniform, and was welcomed by the crew – again there was much movement and fancy footwork involved.  The sailors all left and Josephine entered.  Ann Archibald was taking the part this time and she was delightful.  She had a very clear singing voice that rose magnificently to hit the high notes with perfection.  If there was something for me to have a slight “grumble at” it would be the discrepancy between the accents of Captain Corcoran, played by Tom McVeigh, and Josephine.  She had a very strong Scottish accent and he had an “upper-class” English one – father and daughter?.  Perhaps it’s true what they say about sailors and girls in every port?? 

Sir Joseph, played by Gordon Sandison, entered just after the ladies chorus.  The costumes of the latter were my chief grumble about the production.  They were dressed in thick brown top-coats – Oh for some brightly coloured dresses instead of this dowdy crew! However their singing and acting was first-rate.

Sir Joseph was well the worse for wear due to his journey over from the shore and it took him several starts to his song before he overcame the “mal de mare” from which he was suffering. Again his costume was a bit of a shock – a frock coat and a topper?

This was replaced in act two by full dress uniform of the period.

Sir Joseph gave the Boatswain, played by Stephen Davis, the song he had composed, which the sailors duly sang and then they all left the stage.  The dialogue between Ralph and Josephine was really well played and the “plot” came over extremely clearly.  Their duet was exquisite.  Ralph was joined by the choruses and threatened to take his life, egged on by Dick Deadeye.  However, Josephine’s declaration of love saved him and the act finished with a plan to sneak ashore and wed – despite Deadeye’s protestations that she was too good for him. 

During the interval we explored the theatre taking a great interest in the Circle Bar!! 

Act two opened up with a view looking from the other end of the ship – we now had a funnel instead of the mast and the ventilators were pointing the other way round.  The Captain was on a deck chair and this I felt inhibited the first part of his solo – as he got to the second verse he stood up and the voice was enhanced immeasurably. Buttercup and the Captain delivered their dialogue and duet and then Sir Joseph came back and was persuaded to confirm that “love levels all ranks” as an official utterance. 

Josephine’s solo was beautiful and this was followed by a lively “Why and Wherefore” – no encores were delivered – a pity!  Dick Deadeye informed the Captain of the elopement and the cast entered to the usual “cat” jokes with the cat appearing all over the place.  

The Boatswain sings “He is an Englishman!” which was one of the highlights of the show – what a magnificent voice he has! 

The Captain catches then and says the big bad “D” which is heard by Sir Joseph.  He is sent to his cabin and Ralph explains that he loves Josephine – Sir Joseph almost has an apoplexy and then sends Ralph to the brig. 

Buttercup reveals the mix-up to the cast and then all ends happily with three weddings in prospect after the excellent finale.

During the curtain call the prow of the ship made another dramatic appearance. 

We all left full of the tunes and the atmosphere of one of the best professional performances I have seen. The D’Oyly Carte not only lives, but seems to be going from strength to strength – long may they continue to do so!  We look forward to their next visit to the Potteries.

Click here for cast photos