Monday 23 May 2011

That infernal nonsense Pina-Pinafore

Last week a very strange and exciting thing happened to me.

I achieved my life's dearest wish and time-travelled to the 1940s!

I took a boatload of my best friends with me, and for three nights only we sailed the ocean blue, wearing (or not wearing, as the case may be) our best '40s finery and singing our Union Jack-patterned socks off.

HMS Pinafore:  The War Years

It is 1945 (yes, really.  More on that later.) and the British Navy is busy ruling the waves and keeping Britain's waters free from the invading Hun.  Aboard the good ship Pinafore, currently anchored in port, morning has broken and the crew of remarkably fine sailors (many of whom are actually sailorettes - there is a deplorable lack of available singing men around these parts, don't you agree, readers?) awaken to greet their gallant captain, and to buy some black market goodies smuggled in under the radar by local dodgy tradeswoman, Little Buttercup.

For those of you who are fans of the infamous Simon and his blog cameos (and he seems to have many fans, though I could never tell why), here he is as icky sailor Dick Deadeye, with Northern Irish accent, plastic eyepatch and 1950s copy of Picturegoer masquerading as a '40s mucky magazine.  (Quote from Simon: "Ralph's ballad was so boring that I actually read that magazine.  I never remembered to sing the chorus responses because I was busy learning about Burt Reynolds.")

Meet Ralph. He's the one with the pigtail.  (Ralph is pronounced 'Rafe' because... Oh, never mind why.  While we're on the subject, 'boatswain' = 'bosun', ok?) He's gin-sodden and suicidal because the woman of his dreams, Captain Corcoran's beautiful daughter Josephine (Josephine pictured with some rather splendid victory rolls, hand-crafted by yours truly!), does not love him.  (She does love him, but it would disgrace her noble father's reputation if she married a plebeian sailor, so she's being haughty and unfeeling.) 

If it were up to her father, Josephine would marry the exceedingly rich, influential and boring Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, who, fresh from enjoying a spot of sunbathing with his family, has come aboard for a little word with his prospective father-in-law.

I spent a hilarious day assisting with costumes for the show - it is unsurprisingly difficult to find a olde-fashionede men's bathing suit for a very tall youth, when your budget is limited to Primark and charity shops!

(Interesting fact:  the character of Sir Joseph Porter was inspired by a certain Victorian figure of tabloid ridicule, a well-known stationer who was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty despite never having set foot on a boat.  Ever heard of a Mr W. H. Smith, readers?)

Sir Joseph is followed everywhere he goes by a pair of little sisters, a disapproving aunt and two amorous cousins. (Spot me!)

The dramatic Act 1 finale (complete, in our version, with air raid sirens and an actual bomb) sees Ralph attempt suicide, assisted by the crawly Deadeye, only to be thwarted by Josephine coming to her senses and declaring her love for Ralph.  The happy couple are rapturous, Deadeye is packed off to sulk in his cabin, scheming cousins Hebe and Phoebe spot an opportunity of bagging Sir Joe for themselves, and a plot is hatched for Ralph and Josephine to secretly elope.  Everybody sings about how brilliant sailors are.  Exeunt.  

Act Two opens with another thwarted love affair.  The lowly Buttercup has taken a shine to Captain Corcoran, but his social-climbing ambitions will not permit him to marry a member of the working-class.  
Ugh, the very idea!  

As the captain muses, Sir Joseph, pursued as always by his increasingly drunken and vulgar cousins Hebe and Phoebe, appears to complain that Josephine does not seem terribly impressed by his advances.  The lady herself, meanwhile, has been dithering about Ralph again, contemplating the grand existence she would have as Sir Joseph's wife ("and all that's new purchased from Marks and Spencer's!"), versus the humble, working-class life she would lead, married to Ralph. ("and bath time, a flannel and a kitchen basin!" - Double ugh!)  Sir Joseph, attempting to persuade Josephine to accept his proposal, accidentally convinces her that true love outweighs social position, and she decides to go along with the original plan of eloping with her humble sailor.

Oh no, what's this?  Dastardly Dick Deadeye has grassed them up to the Captain, and the pair of them are hiding out in the orchestra pit, ready to give the unlucky couple a nasty surprise!  The crew try to convince him of Ralph's British virtues, but to no avail.

 Captain Corcoran is furious, and in his fury he says a naughty swear word!  (Well-bred Victorian lady theatre-goers swooned en masse upon hearing the awful "damn" blight the air, I'm sure!)  If there's one thing Sir Joseph Porter cannot abide, it is bad language, so he and his appalled female relatives pack the captain off to his cabin in disgrace.  

Poor Sir Joe learns the truth of Ralph and Josephine's affair and it looks as though Ralph is headed for the ship's dungeon, but Little Buttercup steps in to save the day with a ludicrous story about baby-swapping.

Note the legs.  Somebody, and I'm not naming any names, but she was wearing red shorts, tried to upstage everyone by fainting across the middle of the action.  Bloody attention-seeker.
Buttercup reveals that Ralph is really nobly born, and thus eligible to marry Josephine.  Captain Corcoran, on the other hand, was actually born a commoner, and can therefore marry, oh, say, a humble tradeswoman.  Sir Joseph needs a wife, and, while Phoebe is distracted by a convenient sailor, Hebe finally gets her man.  Joy and rapture all round, and we ended with a rousing chorus of Rule Britannia!

The End!  Hope you liked.  If you are particularly interested, you may view the overture and opening scenes on YouTube.  (Uploading issues mean that that is all there is at present - the rest will be appearing sooner or later!)

HMS Pinafore has always been my absolute favourite G&S operetta, and this unusual production has only made it rise even higher in my esteem.  The show was written in 1878 and, as such, isn't usually set during World War Two.  I think it was a bit of a brainwave to update it, though, and not just for OMG'40shairandmakeup!! reasons.  There are a great many interesting facts, themes, satires and stylism in Pinafore, but I left my textual analysis days well behind me when I ran, screaming, from my bullshitty Master's degree, so I will leave you to look them up yourselves if you want to!  It is sometimes quite clever, though.

Anyway, this pictorial post took me a hundred years to put together, and I'm going off to wash my hair and have my tea.  Maybe in that order, maybe the opposite.

Well done to all sailors, captains, sisters, cousins, aunts, musicians, technicians, bumboat women and first lords of the admiralty onboard the Pinafore, and thanks for a jolly good time.  I loved every minute of this show!

Almost all photographs by Matt Goode or Ashley Bell

Rule bloody Britannia.


  1. This makes me miss you guys all the more. Except that attention seeker in the red shorts. Honestly.

  2. I have good ideas every now and again! :) I like seeing it all in picture documentation form, though I repeat, show pictures of me are never flattering!!! Maybe next time I shall stick to the audience side of the camera...x

  3. Hehe, well done. It looks like great fun :)


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