HMS Pinafore Logo

By W.S. Gilbert & A. Sullivan


The Concept Players' first production was HMS Pinafore - and one of our first performances took place at the Borough Theatre, Abergavenny. Some G&S traditionalists walked out during the performance, but we took this as a compliment! Having said that, the majority of the audience loved our new approach. No-one should doubt our love of England's most famous musical duo, but we do try to bring an innovative style to our productions which we are sure Gilbert would have approved of.

It wasn't so much directed, as generated through a process of evolution by improvisation. If that sounds a bit arty, it wasn't meant to - the group has a wealth of experience, and brought team-work to bear so that the production was like no other you've ever seen! HMS Pinafore was chosen for two reasons: firstly, because it was fairly short, and so would require less rehearsal, and secondly because it was susceptible to an new approach, which drew on lots of sources, from Airplane the Movie to Monty Python, from burlesque to grand opera. And the strangest thing was - it worked! Audiences either loved it or hated it. Some Gilbert and Sullivan traditionalists walked out: while we had members of the audience wanting to join the company. We had to stop the show in a couple of performances because we couldn't stop the audience from applauding - in the middle of an aria! So we figured we were on to a winner. But we were concerned as to whether the concept would work as well in any space as it appeared to do in a theatre. We were undoubtedly lucky that the first performances took place in fully equipped theatres; but would it work with no wings, no lighting and no stage?

We were booked to do Pinafore at a school, and were told that we would be performing in the dining hall. The word 'hall' was something of a misnomer: we found that the children actually ate in a large Portakabin! It was roughly square in shape with a low ceiling, fluorescent lighting, carpeted throughout, and with windows on three sides. As it was July, the sun shone through the windows throughout the evening performance. We created 'wings' by hanging black drapes over chairs mounted on tables, but effectively there was only one entrance - through the kitchen. The only other ways in or out were fire exits at the back of the audience, and in the centre of what we defined as the stage. Lighting changes were indicated by the cast turning on the fluorescent tubes at various points, and we actually started the show in the rhododendron bushes outside the 'hall', peering in at the rather surprised audience within. It was probably the best performance we gave of Pinafore in a theatrical sense, but it highlighted the dangers of agreeing to play 'any time, any place, any where'.



H.M.S. Pinafore; or, The Lass that Loved a Sailor is a comic opera in two acts. It opened at the Opera Comique in London, England, on 25 May 1878 and ran for 571 performances, which was the second-longest run of any musical theatre piece up to that time. H.M.S. Pinafore was Gilbert and Sullivan's fourth operatic collaboration and their first international sensation. Instead of writing a piece for production by a theatre proprietor, as was usual in Victorian theatres, Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte produced the show with their own financial support. They were therefore able to choose their own cast of performers, rather than being obliged to use the actors already engaged at the theatre. They chose talented actors, most of whom were not well-known stars and did not command high fees, and to whom they could teach a more naturalistic style of performance than was commonly used at the time. They then tailored their work to the particular abilities of these performers.[6] The skill with which Gilbert and Sullivan used their performers had an effect on the audience; as critic Herman Klein wrote: "we secretly marvelled at the naturalness and ease with which [the Gilbertian quips and absurdities] were said and done. For until then no living soul had seen upon the stage such weird, eccentric, yet intensely human beings .... [They] conjured into existence a hitherto unknown comic world of sheer delight." Some thing we hope that rings a bell with our own audiences today!