REVIEW: Cambridge University Gilbert & Sullivan Society offer a stylish performance of HMS Pinafore

Rehearsal scenes from Cambridge University G&S Society and their production of HMS Pinafore. PHOTO:

Rehearsal scenes from Cambridge University G&S Society and their production of HMS Pinafore. PHOTO: Cambridge University G&S Society - Credit: Archant

There’s a lovely line in their programme notes explaining the plot of HMS Pinafore that reads ‘ it all works out in the end, hip, hip hooray!’

Rehearsal scenes from Cambridge University G&S Society and their production of HMS Pinafore. PHOTO:

Rehearsal scenes from Cambridge University G&S Society and their production of HMS Pinafore. PHOTO: Cambridge University G&S Society - Credit: Archant

It does and indeed did quite satisfyingly on the opening night of the Cambridge University G&S Society’s production at West Road Concert Hall.

Jam packed with those studying everything from engineering to the classics, chemistry to languages, and from heart biology to behavioural science, you wonder how they find time, but grateful they have, for the subtleties, nuances and pure indulgence of a Gilbertian outlook.

The appetite for such light opera may have waned but the Cambridge audience – of an unsurprising large number of middle aged and older theatre goers who indeed looked capable of ‘whistling all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore’ – were happy to feast on the increasing rarity of a G&S classic.

Musical conductor Tristan Selden was rightly being congratulated by his orchestra members on his robust performance as I passed them during the interval – his was a stylish and at times delightfully frenzied journey that allowed the production to get into gear. G&S is about delivery and pace – the cast responsible for the former, the musical director for the latter. Both got it right.


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Tiffany Charnley as Josephine was captivating, charming and ever so slightly coquettish to ensure Max Noble, as her suitor Ralph, was never to going be dissuaded from the challenge of courtship and marriage above his class.

HMS Pinafore was first staged in the late 19th century at a time when class was a dominant force in the British way of life and challenges to it a pre-occupation of satirists into which the G&S tradition was conceived and flourished.

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Coincidentally alongside the impish drama of G&S this week class and society at Cambridge was being played out in real life by the university student filmed burning a £20 note defiantly in front of a homeless man on the city streets.

William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan would not have approved for Pinafore, and their other productions that came before and went after it, used literary devices and parody to challenge, and mock, the status quo.

HMS Pinafore has a shorter run than some years but brevity in performances has not stunted enthusiasm, production values and an outpouring of genuine zest and affection for a much loved and valued tradition.

Class is indeed alive and well – and being teased, tantalised and tormented with nicely.

You have limited opportunity to catch this show – take it if you dare.

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