|HMS Pinafore > Reviews > Review of the 1880 Tour at Lancaster
H.M.S. PINAFORE AT THE MUSIC HALL.
Much credit is due to Mr. Fletcher for introducing to the Lancaster public Mr. D'Oyly Carte's Opera Company for the representation of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's Nautical Opera of "H.M.S. Pinafore." The fame of the opera had, judging by the largeness of the house on Friday evening, preceded the visit of this company to Lancaster, and we are confirmed in the opinion that really first-class entertainments properly managed are not likely to lack liberal patronage. But taking into account the size of the town, and the small and inconvenient hall in which such entertainments are given, which necessitates rather high charges, those who provide them must not give too many, and they should select a favourable season. We hope that the financial success of this venture of Mr. Fletcher's will justify him in undertaking similar enterprises for the amusement of the inhabitants of Lancaster, whose opportunities of thus enjoying themselves are few indeed. It is most desirable that every public-spirited effort of the kind should be well encouraged by those whose opinion is likely to be in any degree influential.
The opera was preceded by a musical farce entitled "Four by Honours," of which the leading characters were Robert a Police Officer, Mr. E. Johnson; Benjamin Walker, Postman, No. 9999, Mr. J. De Lay [i.e. John Le Hay]; Betsy (Drudge at Mrs. Diffins's), Miss May; and Mary (Housemaid at Mrs. Diffin's), Miss Monmouth. Both the policeman and the postman are highly sentimental persons who, as distinguished members of the aristocracy, have, in the past, encountered each other in combat all too mortal; and each of them carries upon his conscience the awful burden of guilt that he killed the other. In their courting of Mary and Betsy respectively, they are destined to meet again, but they suppose each other to be ghosts. The situations are, as may be imagined, exceedingly ludicrous, and give scope for plenty of by-play. The acting was lively and clever, and created much fun.
In the opera of "H.M.S. Pinafore" we have the true spirit of burlesque. It is a thoroughly farcical subject, but dramatist and musician have executed their work in a serious and careful manner. It is the result of the best efforts of two men who are equally eminent in their respective departments. The success of Mr. W. S. Gilbert as a dramatic author has not been inferior to that of Mr. Arthur Sullivan as a composer. The libretto is a clever literary production, full of lovely nonsense, quaint conceits, and grotesque situations, but the absurdity is always fairly consistent, which imparts facility to the acting, and continuity to the amusement of the audience, who are simply borne along with the humour.
We must make considerable allowance for the difficulty of working an opera on so small a stage, but the scenery and general arrangements were excellent. The scenery was simple, being the Quarter-deck of H.M.S. PINAFORE, with raised poop deck, mainmast, entrance to cabins, hatch-way, steering-wheel, &c., and a view of Portsmouth in the distance Altogether the opera was well put on the stage, but the deficiency of stage accommodation prevented the groups from acting and being seen to advantage. The acting was bright and the singing delightful. As may be supposed from its great popularity, the opera abounds in striking, tuneful, sympathetic airs, and they were all admirably rendered. There was a complete absence of screaming, and of mere vulgar noisiness. The chorus was unusually good throughout. The orchestra, although of good quality, was rather feeble, but possibly a more powerful orchestra would have overweighted the company, and been too loud for the size of the hall. The cast was as follows:–
First Lord's Sisters, his Cousins, his Aunts, Sailors, Marines, &c.
The plot of the opera is that the First Lord of the Admiralty has fallen in love with the daughter of Captain Corcoran, who rather favours the suit of the First Lord. Josephine has, however, lost her heart to Ralph Rackstraw, an able seaman. The sympathies of the crew are with Ralph. Sir Joseph Porter is a conceited official, who is always accompanied by an admiring, crowd of female relatives – sisters, cousins, and aunts – and
Sir Joseph, preceded by his female relatives, comes on board, and the
The First Lord then sings –
Cousin Hebe and the other relatives join in with
"And we are his sisters and his cousins, and his aunts."
Then follows a song by the First Lord, recounting his early struggles, and describing how he attained to eminence.
Sir Joseph narrates the steps by which he rose from an office boy to be the First Lord.
His final advice to those who wish to rise to the top of the tree is
This is no doubt intended for a skit upon the many landsmen, as Sir John Pakington, Mr. Goschen, and Mr. Smith, who have risen to the dignity of "First Lord," and the honour of ruling "the Queen's Navee."
The First Lord does not pay Captain Corcoran over much deference. He lectures the Captain, with whom his crew are "quite content," on the proper treatment of his men, and tells him that they are "the bulwarks of England's greatness." He is not to bully or patronise "because an accident of birth has placed you above them and them below you." The Captain replies that he is "the last person on earth to insult a British Sailor, Sir." He is requested to desire "that splendid seaman," Ralph Rackstraw, to step forward, but he is admonished to say "if you please."
Ralph, being complimented as a remarkably fine fellow, answers that "there's not a smarter topman in the navy, your honour, though I say it who shouldn't." Sir Joseph rejoins "Not at all. Proper self-respect nothing more. Can you dance a hornpipe?" Ralph replies that he cannot, much to the astonishment of the First Lord, who considers that all sailors should dance hornpipes, and promises to teach him one that evening after dinner. Inquiries are made as to how the captain treats him, and the First Lord hands Ralph a song which he has composed for the use of the Royal Navy, and which "is designed to encourage independence of thought and action in the lower branches of the service, and to teach the principle that a British Sailor is any man's equal, excepting mine." Then the First Lord retires with Captain Corcoran into the cabin for a word on a tender and sentimental subject.
The plot rapidly develops. Josephine has previously avowed her attachment to Ralph Rackstraw, the able seaman. The Captain does not wish to coerce his daughter. He assures her, nevertheless, that "the line must be drawn somewhere: that a man in that station may be brave and worthy, but at every step he would commit solecisms that Society would never pardon; " and his dutiful daughter assures him that she will carry her love for Ralph with her to the tomb, and that he shall never, never know it. Josephine does not yield to the fascinating but most condescending attentions of the First Lord. She comes upon the deck exclaiming, "Sir Joseph's attentions nauseate me. I know that he is a truly great and good man, but to me he seems tedious, fretful and dictatorial. Yet his must be a mind of no common order, or he would not dare to teach my dear father to dance a hornpipe on the cabin table."
Ralph steps forward and avows his love. The scene is one of the best in the opera. The now alternate and now commingled feelings of love and pride in Josephine were well portrayed by Miss Pierson, whose singing throughout was most charming, with a full voice and excellent phasing; whose movements were most sprightly graceful and ladylike; and whose acting generally was admirable alike for its piquancy and its steadiness. We cannot say as much for Ralph (Mr. Cadwaladr), whose singing and acting appeared to be rather strained. Our brief space will not permit us to develop the plot fully. The suit of Sir Joseph is unsuccessful, that of Ralph meets with more favour after he has put a pistol to his head. It is arranged that they shall that very night steal ashore.
Dick Deadeye, who is a deformed cantankerous seaman whom Buttercup has described as "rather triangular," and who complains that from such a face and form as his "the noblest sentiments sound like the black utterances of a depraved imagination," thus warns Ralph and his friends.
The second act opens with the same scenery by moonlight. The Captain is discovered singing on poop-deck and accompanying himself on a mandolin, with little Buttercup seated on the quarter-deck gazing sentimentally at him. There are some tender passages between the Captain and Buttercup, who reads his heart and predicts that there is a change in store for him. They sing the duet –
At the end Buttercup makes her exit dramatically, the Captain soliloquising
Then Sir Joseph enters, exclaiming, "Captain Corcoran, I am much disappointed with your daughter. In fact, I don't think she will do," and a characteristic dialogue follows. Sir Joseph states that although he has urged his suit "with as much eloquence as is consistent with an official utterance," he has not been successful. Josephine appears, sings a song, the burden of which is –
She contrasts, on the one hand, her papa's luxurious home
Sir Joseph, coming from the place whence he has watched her, states that it has been represented to him that she is appalled by his exalted rank, and he desires to convey to her officially his assurance that if her hesitation is attributable to that circumstance, it is uncalled for. The young lady extracts from him the opinion that "happiness is not inconsistent with discrepancy in rank," and poor Sir Joseph is hoist with his own petard.
After a most amusing trio by the First Lord, the Captain, and Josephine, Dick Deadeye appears on the scene and says mysteriously to the Captain, "I'm come to give you warning." The Captain thinks that he is wishing to leave the navy. No; Dick has information to give "about a certain intimate relation" and he reveals how Josephine intends
"This very night with Rackstraw to be flying."
The Captain produces a "cat," with certain significant hints as to its application, and disguises himself in his boat cloak. Then enter the crew, with Ralph and the Boatswain, while Josephine emerges from the cabin with Little Buttercup. They sing –
The Captain stamps his feet; they are all startled; and flinging off his cloak he sings
Ralph exclaims –
Then follows the droll and exultingly patriotic song by Boatswain –
The Captain thinks the conduct of Ralph "too bad," and utters a strong word of reprobation Sir Joseph is horrified at the bad language, and will hear of no defence –
The Captain disgraced retires, followed by Josephine.
Josephine, in the midst of a colloquy between Sir Joseph and Ralph as to how the Captain came so far to forget himself as to use the ‘language strong,' rushes upon deck and falls into the arms of Ralph, who exclaims, "She's the figure head of my ship of life – the bright beacon that guides me into my port of happiness – the rarest, the purest gem that ever sparkled on a poor but worthy fellow's trusting brow.' Sir Joseph orders two Marines to seize "the insolent sailor," and declares that he will teach this presumptuous mariner to discipline his affections." Ralph loaded with chains is taken to his cell, where –
Buttercup suddenly appears, and sings –
Buttercup continues, –
Sir Joseph, realising that "Ralph is really the Captain and the Captain is Ralph," proceeds to execute poetical justice. Ralph becomes Captain and the Captain becomes an able seaman; Josephine is handed over to Ralph with the injunction to "treat her kindly"; Corcoran plights his truth to dear little Buttercup; Sir Joseph announces that he cannot live alone, and cousin Hebe is perfectly ready to soothe and comfort his declining days. And three loving pairs are on the same day united. The curtain falls while all sing
The interpretation of the piece was, on the whole, excellent. The company was carefully selected. Mr. Wilkinson's representation of the fussy, bumptious First Lord of the Admiralty deserves special praise. The character was well sustained throughout. It is a fine bit of satire with which Mr. Gilbert has taken great pains, and the caricature is admirably worked out. Sir Joseph never forgets that he is First Lord of the Admiralty, and his consciousness of the dignity betrays itself in every tone, look, and movement, "though when the breezes blow, he generally goes below, and seeks the seclusion that a cabin grants."
Mr. Hogarth's Captain Corcoran was a clever piece of acting. The whole style and bearing of the popular captain was most natural being at once dignified and free. Of Mr. Cadwaladr's Ralph Rackstraw we have already written. The representation was rather a failure, being tame and unromantic. Mr. Robert Brough's Dick Deadeye was very good. The make-up was excellent and the by-play and singing suitably grotesque. The character of Little Buttercup was charming and amusing. The subordinate characters were well performed, all fitting naturally into their proper places. The dresses, too, were most becoming.
The hearty applause during the performance, and the enthusiastic outburst at the close, were convincing proofs that it had been highly appreciated; and whatever may have been the expectations, the entertainment was probably to most of the audience an agreeable surprise. It is generally admitted to have been one of the best ever seen in Lancaster. The opera was repeated at a morning performance on Saturday, and again on Saturday evening. We sincerely hope that the financial success has been satisfactory, for "H.M.S. Pinafore," combining as it does so much of vocal and dramatic excellence – with its sprightly, melodious music and gay humour – would certainly bear repetition in Lancaster, and possibly Mr. D'Oyly Carte's company may be induced to pay us another visit. We see that it has been recently playing in Manchester "The Sorcerer" by the same author and composer. Again we thank Mr. Fletcher for the genuine pleasure which his enterprise in this and other respects has afforded to the inhabitants of Lancaster, and we most cordially wish him success in all similar undertakings.
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