“DOE’s annual opera production is fantastic… with with an ebullient crew of talent and filled with singing, comedic antics, and a timeless tale of love.

DOE’s annual opera production is fantastic, sailing the high seas on the HMS Pinafore in the Assembly Rooms Theatre, with an ebullient crew of talent and filled with singing, comedic antics, and a timeless tale of love.

Director Sarah Johnston has kept it simple, to great effect: the songs have been placed at the forefront of the production, allowing the story to ebb and flow along the tumultuous waves of love and cascades of classism. Assisted by Maggie Baring, these themes are further fleshed out by small but entertaining comedic moments, which help round out the satirical aspects of the production. The chemistry and interactions across the cast are brilliant, and help develop the satire. Supporting this is the fantastic band, led by Musical Director Jude Holloway and Assistant Musical Director Dohyun Kim. Their performance is flawless all night, the instruments seamlessly fusing with the background to complement moments of drama and hilarity. The one thing that could do with brushing up is the choreography, usually a highlight of Pinafore productions, which here is at times messy and could use better synchronisation and creativity.

Leading the cast is Rowan Aufrichtig as Ralph Rackstraw, the flirtatious and heroic sailor, who demonstrates great bravado, stage presence, and vocal ability. Aufrichtig’s performance serves as the crux of the operetta, personifying the fun-loving and hardworking stereotype of the model Victorian sailor to life. His pursuit of Ruby Alexander’s Josephine strings the audience along, with Alexander possessing one of the most powerful and beautiful voices I have heard in Durham. Alexander plays to Josephine’s aristocratic nature perfectly, showcasing her inner conflict between her love for luxury and feelings for Ralph with sublime vocals and comedic flair.

Matthew Dodd as Captain Corcoran is brilliant. His cowardly and air-headed portrayal of the captain provides most of the comedic moments of the night, whilst masking a veil of imprudence and classist arrogance underneath. Opposite him, Max Wedmore as Sir Joseph Porter complements his silliness while juxtaposing his impolite manners with an obsessive insistence on “if you please”. Their dynamic is entertaining to watch, tugging on their differing ideas on social order under the guise of tomfoolery. Watching from the shadows is Dick Deadeye, the villain of rationality and logic that attempts to sabotage the plot of the lovers. Georgia Malkin handles the dastardly character with great cunning, while preserving a comical edge.

Bringing this all together is the ensemble. Well trained and disciplined, they provide the basis for the exquisite harmonies of the production, elevating the songs from good to spectacular. They are skilled in bouncing off each other with their reactions, possess spot-on comedic timing, and perfectly portray the excitement of spectating Ralph and Josephine’s budding romance.

The technical crew should also be commended for their efforts, having overseen a spotless night with smooth and efficient transitions. Production Manager Willow Raynor and Stage Manager Josh Greenwood have done a great job in leading the crew. Highlights included the blue, white and red tassels streaming across the ceiling to create the impression of a ship and James Fox-Robinson and Sophia Christophorou’s effective lighting that highlights the mood of the characters.

HMS Pinafore is a delightful production from start to finish. The months of tireless hard work to execute this classic is clearly evident. With tickets selling fast, grab your tickets today and get ready to set sail!

By Linus Cheung

HMS Pinafore will continue to show at the Sir Thomas Allen Assembly Rooms Theatre at 19:30 on Friday the 1st and Saturday the 2nd of March, with an additional 14:30 performance on the Saturday.

Photo Credits: Durham Opera Ensemble