by John Lombard
H.M.S. Pinafore - The Q
Hayes Theatre Co.
Reviewed 25 February, on until 29 February
H.M.S. Pinafore is the epitome of the dusty musical, diminished by wobbly amateur productions and knotted to the class logic of Victorian England.
But under director Kate Gaul’s command, this Gilbert and Sullivan classic finds new vigour as genderfuck carnival.
The opening of the play is inviting and unpretentious, with the Pinafore sailors playing the overture in a relaxed jam session.
The straightforward and sincere shipdeck set could have been salvaged from a high school theatre.
But in place of the libretto’s rigid gender roles, we have elfin maidens with dashing moustaches, a saucy Buttercup with striking stubble and an Admiral in glittering Mardi Gras disarray.
Before long, the Pinafore has transformed into a shimmering drag cabaret with semaphore fan dancers and kinky party antics.
In the melodramatic story trim sailor Ralph Rackstraw loves the earnest Josephine, daughter of the feckless and cringing Captain Corcoran.
Boorish lothario and First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Joseph attempts to snag Josephine for himself with a
self-interested declaration that “love can level ranks”, but inadvertently inspires the forbidden lovers to elope.
If the class plot is unrelatable, the norm-busting use of gender scrapes off the Pinafore’s barnacles. The actors channel this energy into Sullivan’s blissful music and Gilbert’s manic eloquence.
With wit, style and thrill, this Hayes Theatre production is relentlessly entertaining.
“Love can level ranks” - and this revel ranks high.