Gilbert and Sullivan
Carl Rosa Opera at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring
It really is quite a sad comment that W S Gilbert's (albeit gentle) satire is still relevant today. Things have changed in so many ways, but much remains the same. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!
This is an interesting production of Pinafore, for the Gilbertian is not the only satire. Timothy West has taken the traditional D'Oyly Carte style of production and given it the same gently satirical treatment that Gilbert gives to his subject matter. This is a production in which you start chuckling almost from the moment the curtain goes up and don't stop till it falls again, occasionally bursting into loud laughter on the way. In fact, that's not quite accurate, for nearly three hours, a Metro journey and a bite of supper later, I'm still chuckling.
It's always interesting to see how an accomplished practitioner in one art form can step over to another - they almost always bring some fresh insight or interpretation - and we are treated to a double dose here, for not only is actor Timothy West the director, he also has another actor, Colin Baker (playing Sir Joseph Porter), as the star. Thinking about it beforehand, I could see Baker in his role, but somehow I found it difficult to envisage West as a G&S director. I am delighted to be able to report just how misplaced my reservations were!
The cast as a whole were lovely, entering into the fun of the whole thing while singing beautifully. Nick Sales and Anne Bourne made a great pair of lovers, whilst Simon Wilding's Dick Deadeye was convincingly nasty. Steven Page was an excellent Captain Corcoran - his "Fair moon, to thee I sing" was very, very funny, whilst never over the top. For me the highlight, among many delights, was the trio "Never mind the why and wherefore" in which all three (Josephine, Corcoran and Porter) shone.
But what, for me, made the production (apart from West's direction) was the performance of Colin Baker. He was able to hold his own in the singing stakes - he has an attractive, if somewhat light, voice, in a part where singing ability is not a sine qua non - but it was the skills he brought from his acting career which made the difference: not just impeccable timing but the little things, bits of business and gesture, even a little more characterisation than one normally expect.
All in all, a most enjoyable evening's entertainment, with perhaps a little more bite than we might normally expect from G&S.
The tour continues to Salford, Canterbury, Buxton, Nottingham, Norwich, Hull, Leicester and Leeds.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan