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Pinafore crew really Swings at Richmond!

Review by David Munro

THE title of this charming little show is misleading in that, unlike earlier updates of Gilbert and Sullivan, such as the Hot or Swing Mikado, it is not a modernised version of the operetta but a new work drawing on Gilbert and Sullivan’s words and music for inspiration.

Therefore, purists should be warned that they will, in many instances, not be able to recognise the tunes or savour Gilbert’s words intact. For example, 'he is an Englishman', becomes 'he is an Am-er-ic –an' with the concomitant up beat in the tune.

This is a show set in the swing era of the Forties performed by an extremely competent octet , four men and four women who, in the style set by earlier Watermill productions (for that is its birthplace) sing, dance and play instruments while at the same time enacting the plot.

The plot, in this instance, takes place on board a war ship, named Pinafore by the Captain after the operetta manned by British Sailors and carrying a swing band.

The presence of an American 'Gob' causes romantic problems when the daughter of the leader of the band falls for him and rejects the advances of the captain of the ship. He, in true G and S fashion, was exchanged as a baby with the American while in the charge of one of the female members of the band.

All this is showcased by Sullivan tunes (although, to be honest, I did not recognise many of them) arranged in the swing style by Susan Travis, with lyrics in the vernacular of the period by the director, John Doyle, who is also credited with the 'adaptation' from the original HMS Pinafore.

Once you accept that you are not at the Savoy Theatre, and this is not the D’Oyle Carte company, you can settle down for a very pleasant and enjoyable couple of hours.

The company works as a team, swapping instruments where necessary, and joining in the vocals either as soloists or as a chorus.

Three of the actresses, Kerry James, Nina Lucking and Claire Storey, form a Saxophone Trio, the Swing Butterflies I think they called themselves, who are sort of Greek chorus to the actions of the rest of the cast.

They are extremely proficient musicians, as indeed are the rest of the cast, and form a consistent background for the other members of the band.

These are the the Captain, who is not the captain of the ship but merely the bandleader, and who, when young, had been the lover of one of the Butterflies and instrumental in causing her inadvertently to swap over the two babies in her charge.


Stephen Watts, in the part, gives a wonderful impression of a leader of a band of that era, complete with all the mincing dance steps, soulful singing and flamboyant playing. It is his daughter, Jenny (Gemma Page), who is in love with Jack the American sailor.

Jenny is no mean performer in her own right, she plays a clarinet, dances and sings charmingly, and one can easily understand why she should have attracted the real ship's Captain, Joe (otherwise Sir Joseph Porter, Bart, played by Kieran Buckeridge).

Joe is an aesthete who seeks to emulate Noel Coward and has a very amusing number at the piano a la the Master made up from titles of Coward shows and songs.

Jack, ( who really should be Joe - you remember they were swapped as babies!) epitomises the English view of the brash yank of war years and is well delineated by Ben Tolley’s performance.

He plays the drums and the piano – it is a nice production touch that he shares the piano playing with Joe, emphasising their relationship in the plot – and dances.

The dancing, perhaps not surprisingly, is the weakest part of the show. Elizabeth Marsh, the choreographer, has done a good job with her cast and when they dance, it is convincing if not inspired.

The final member of the cast is Jim, the archetypal cockney British Sailor, who falls for one of the Butterflies, whose ambition it is to be a film star and who eludes him. He is in the capable hands of Steve Simmonds, who plays the guitar and drums while pursuing his lepidopteral romance.

The set, by Sarah-Jane McClelland, is an Art Deco night club, rather in the style of the old Café de Paris with a staircase leading on to the dance floor which enables John Doyle, wearing his directorial hat, to move his players unobtrusively throughout the evening into various groups and positions, effectively emphasising the musical or dramatic point he wishes to make.

As I have said, forget Gilbert and Sullivan and you will have a rewarding time at this unpretentious yet delightful show – as they say in the vernacular – Pinafore SWINGS!

Pinafore Swing from the operetta HMS Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan adapted and directed by John Doyle. Musical arrangement and direction by Sarah Travis.
Director, John Doyle; Musical Director, Sarah Travis; Designer, Sarah-Jane McClelland; Lighting, Richard G. Jones/Howard Luscombe (for tour); Sound, Gary Dixon; Choreographer, Elizabeth Marsh.
CAST: Kieran Buckeridge; Kerry James; Nina Lucking; Gemma Page; Steve Simmonds; Clair Storey; Ben Tolley; Stephen Watts.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 1QJ.
Tues, Oct 5 – Sat, Oct 9, 2004.
Evenings – 7.45pm/ Matinees: Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office: 020 8939 9277.

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