a, Arts & Entertainment, Theatre

All Aboard the H.M.S. Pinafore

Founded in 1964, the McGill Savoy Society was created in memory of Arthur Sullivan and William Gilbert, a lazy social climber and a failed lawyer who built the Savoy Theatre to serve as their stage. This year, the troupe vividly brings to life the witty Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore, a sea voyage of the power of love and the possibility of equality in the British class system. 

The operetta—a combination of a British opera and musical—brilliantly satirizes the English identity, exaggerated by the setting on the Pinafore, one of the Queen’s navy ships. The story focuses on the captain’s (Jonah Spungen) daughter, Josephine (Anna Bond and Allegra Johnston), who falls in love with a lowly sailor, Ralph Rackstraw (Sam Strickland), though she is intended to wed Sir Joseph (Stephen Reimer), the First Lord of the Admiralty. The hierarchy of class is emphasized in dress, language, and treatment of the characters. The power of love and the ideal of equality is brought into conflict with the strict hierarchy of the British class as the operetta unfolds. 

Gilbert and Sullivan’s witty speech and lively music makes even the more serious scenes ridiculously humorous. For instance, while waiting to catch Josephine and Ralph eloping, the sounds of the Captain’s dismay are passed off to be “just be the cat.”  

The orchestra, led by Thomas Burton, brilliantly brings the operetta to life, while Jean-Claude Olivier’s set is wonderfully detailed and dynamic. The set replicates a ship, allowing performers to appear in higher and lower positions, and features a door to below decks, allowing the villain, Dick Deadeye (Victor Hsu) to dramatically and creepily come out of the darkness on to the stage. 

Further adding to the realism of the production is the appropriately gaudy costuming of crisp white navy uniforms and women’s parasols. The chorus of the sailors and sisters act as an united group in perfect unison, but still establish their individuality, creating a visually elaborate scene with a balance of variation and similarity in their actions. 

The talent of the whole crew is on display as all the performances are a true joy to listen to and see. Many members of the cast are students in the Faculty of Music, and the depth of their talent and training is evident. Bond shines as the empowered young heroine, well-balanced by Strickland’s boyish charm in play with Reimer’s vapid idealism. Yet it is the antics of the bodacious, aging gypsy beauty, Little Buttercup—referenced as ‘Sluttercup’ by actress Erika Davis—which consistently steal the show. In one stand-out musical number, Davis hypnotizes Spungen, forcing him to act like a cat and purr out the seductively ominous number, “Things are Seldom What They Seem.”

The Savoy Society made the decision to double cast the roles of Josephine and Little Buttercup, allowing a greater number of roles for the numerous strong female performers. This is furthered when gender boundaries are pushed with Sophia Metcalf cast as the male sailor, Billie Bobstay. These actions align with the McGill Savoy Society’s belief of being inclusive, allowing for greater opportunity for all and not being limited by gender norms. 

As with all Gilbert and Sullivan productions, the show ends with all characters romantically pulling their beloved ones into an embrace and a tender kiss., but who will be kissing who is the twist you won’t want to miss you. 

H.M.S. Pinafore runs from Friday, Feb. 20 to Saturday, Feb. 21 at Moyse Hall. Tickets are $10 for students, $20 for adults and $15 for seniors.

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