No 45 Autumn 1997 Edited by Michael Walters
I didn't think it was possible - to turn Pinafore into a Broadway musical I mean! But that seemed to be the intention, with a rather 1920's set reminiscent of a Fred Astaire film with symbolic bell-mouthed tubes (name?) and a male chorus totally divorced from reality by going through a series of somewhat meaningless dance steps with mops and buckets during the opening chorus. Perversely, at precisely the point when they ought to dance - i.e. in "A British tar" when Sullivan had gone to the trouble to write a hornpipe into the score, they merely lay on the deck and did press-ups. By contrast, the female chorus when they entered were mostly in brown, with large overcoats, and were the greatest bundle of Victorian frumps imaginable. That is really all that can be said about the "production" which seemed to work on the principle that choreography is a substitute for acting. It isn't!
The generously proportioned Frances McCafferty (Buttercup) was no bum-boat woman, but dressed as a sort of night-club queen, dripping with jewelry like a Christmas tree. Would such a dazzlingly-clad creature be peddling wares (out of a perambulator, by the way!) to a crowd of able-bodied seamen? "Poor little Buttercup" she calls herself. Poor? Little? Who was she trying to fool? In contrast to this glamorous creature, poor, plain little Josephine looked like a waif, clad in, of all things, a sailor suit!! No-one would have given her a second glance with Buttercup around. But presumably these things don't matter in musicals. Dramatic integrity is in short supply these days in professional companies. Amateurs set higher store by such things.
But the most disturbing feature of the performance (apart from the slow dreary tempi) was the total lack of personality of the principals (bar one). Josephine (Yvonne Patrick) was a nonentity with an excessive vibrato in her opening song, though this was less obvious in the duet - perhaps she'd warmed up by then. Niall Morris (Ralph) looked like he had come straight out of a music college and had never been on stage before (not correct, in fact). He had a good voice but contorted his mouth into the most hideous shapes I have ever seen an actor make. Some of his pianissimo top notes were quite beautiful, but they were a high price to place for the most charmless performance I can remember for a long time. His barked, declaimed dialogue betrayed a woeful lack of stagecraft. Robert Traylor (Bobstay), Wendy Schoeman (Hebe) and Tom McVeigh (Corcoran) were quite adequate, but did little with their parts except sing and speak. Lynton Black (Deadeye), not very ugly and not at all triangular, spoke with a good crafted Lancashire accent and his delivery was refreshingly natural after the stiltedness of the rest. But, apart from the sailor who caught the peppermint drop thrown by Buttercup in his mouth (full marks there), the one positive thing about the evening was the magnificent performance of Sir Joseph Porter by Gordon Sandison. In his short scene in Act 1, he wiped the stage with the rest of the cast, and made performers like John Reed and James Conroy-Ward look like terminal ham. He entered, feeling obviously seasick, and sang such lines as "my bosom swells with pride" with such a bilious expression that was irresistibly funny ...
MICHAEL WALTERS[This review was unfinished, I found it in the bottom of a drawer, and, to my embarassment, I cannot actually remember a thing about it. I can be sure I wrote it only because the draft was unquestionably in my writing! Is this senile dementia? Is this ...? Ed.]
Web page created 25 July 1998