Review: HMS Pinafore

POPPY MULVANEY: ‘Bouncey’ and ‘colourful’ but ‘definitely of the amateur variety’.

Cambridge Arts Theatre Gilbert and Sullivan HMS Pinafore Twilight

Monday 1st – Saturday 6th, 7.45 and 2.30 on Thursday and Saturday, Cambridge Arts Theatre, £10/£15/£20.


Things I do that I know are inherently bad: mix port with diet coke, run red lights on my bike, secretly read Twilight instead of work, enjoy musicals. While I can be forgiven for the first three, I know with some of you I have irreparably tarnished my reputation with that last guilty confession. Already my Facebook friends are dwindling as Coventry takes effect.

So, while I would like to say that I stand behind my enjoyment of musicals, resolute and unashamed, it is in fact with some embarrassment that I admit to you my activities on Monday night. At the Cambridge Arts Theatre I witnessed that most dark and heinous of human endeavours: a Gilbert and Sullivan musical. Tossing caution to the wind I will go one step further and tell you that I quite enjoyed it.

The show is bouncy, colourful, and definitely of the amateur variety, which is actually quite a positive thing in this case. There are no airs or graces, instead it benefits from the obvious camaraderie and genuine fun the cast are having with the performance just as much as it does from the witty lines and bubbly show tunes. Updated from the usual 1900s aesthetic, this HMS Pinafore has been brightened up considerably by the move to the 1920s. The era, familiar to many as a popular event theme, has naturally lead to a riot of costumes among the ladies chorus, some rather tight pants among the male leads, and a strange ra-ra skirt on Josephine that was either meant to indicate the variation of fashions, or show off her rather impressive legs. It was not perfection in any shape or form.

Photos: Will Seymour

The men’s chorus was sloppy in their timing of steps. Sophie Hytner as Little Buttercup was a confusingly glamorous ‘Portsmouth bumboat women’ with a tendency to swing between ‘posh’ and a bad Irish accent while speaking. Alice Cairns, too, sang in a very off-putting pitchy manner which managed to culminate in a very sharp shriek about three quarters of the way through the performance (possibly first night jitters). Geoff Williams was a bit bland as Rafe and Iwan Davies, though steady, reminded me ever so slightly of Scott from the ‘Thunderbirds’ TV show, in both face and acting manner. Matthew Thorne, however, made up for all of it and then some. His effortless and charmingly camp portrayal of ‘Sir Joseph’ was easily the best thing about the show. It is worth the £10 fee alone to see his footwork in ‘Ring the merry bells on board-ship’ alongside his ability to clutch a cigarette holder at all times.

Then, there is the fun that is the musical itself. HMS Pinafore is actually a very well written and entertaining show – one of the duo’s finest. Thanks to Simpson’s louche villain Sideshow Bob’s charming rendition of some of its catchier numbers, the songs are recognisable, and you may find yourself mouthing along the words – or in my case, listening to the women next to you. For musical lovers, though this may not be the best rendition of HMS Pinafore it is an entertaining evening, provided you lie on your status about your activities to avoid social pariahdom. If you don’t like musicals, I don’t think this example will change your mind.