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H.M.S. PINAFORE – Hackney Empire, London.

hmsFollowing in a fine tradition of all-male casts, Sasha Regan’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore is just at the beginning of another UK tour. After the last tour’s reception, it’s not really surprising the team would hope for another success, and they’re certainly putting the best foot forward. With some familiar faces, and some cast changes in key roles, there’s a cast here who really spark off each other and create something vivid and new with one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most widely known works.

Set on a warship in WWII, this troop entertainment has a real feeling of a bunch of young lads just messing about, trying to stave off the boredom of the sea month’s. It’s a vibe that works, with actual members of the Queen’s Navy comfortable enough with each other to really give their all to the female parts. With Buttercup and Josephine already on board, things hum along, but when the Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter K.C.B. comes in with his sisters and his cousins and his aunts it really kicks off.

There’s excellent comedy in the high voices and high femininity here – a special form of camp that can be generated in an all male environment (like the bowels of a battleship). With feminine costume created from bit of fabric and creatively positioned regular male dress, there’s a fantastic visual element to the male and “female” contrast the characters are playing with. This draws the audience into the play-within-a-play construct we’re all taking part in – we’re all just watching our shipmates perform for us.

Set piece songs like the opener ‘We Sail The Ocean Blue’, the highlight of the whole show Sir Joseph’s entrance song ‘I am the Monarch of the Sea’, and ‘When I Was a Lad’ with the aforementioned sisters, cousins and aunts, are rendered with supreme confidence in the choreography and the musical ability of each member. The other numbers are performed equally well, no mistake, but while they retain the emotional impact intended (Josephine and Rackstraw’s intimate moments, performed by Ben Irish and Tom Senior, are genuinely touching) there’s not that bang.

The set, costumes and lighting courtesy of Ryan Dawson Laight and Tim Deiling respectively are perfectly judged, giving the crew excellent complement when performing Lizzi Gee’s choreography. It helps provide a bit of continuity too in a piece that seems to jump from song to song at the start, which isn’t exactly helpful when trying to build up a little momentum. Coming together, the music, performances, choreography and general cohesion of all elements has produced a powerful, imaginative and joyful two hours. Leaving the playhouse, it’s difficult to imagine why this isn’t always played as an all-male production.

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Reviewed 27/04/16

By Karl O’Doherty

27th April – 1st May 2016, then on tour 
Hackney Empire, London, E8 1EJ.

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Check AllMaleHMS.com for tour dates and details.

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