Charles Court Opera is back at King’s Head Theatre, Islington, for the 10th Gilbert and Sullivan season. This time the opera company is putting on a new production of HMS Pinafore. We attended a preview performance at the weekend (14 April).

Josephine, daughter of the Pinafore’s captain, is in love with lowly sailor Ralph Rackstraw; her father Captain Corcoran hopes she will marry First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Joseph Porter. Sir Joseph is himself her superior, but assures her that love levels all ranks. Unwittingly, he provides the reason she needs to admit her love for Rackstraw. However, a long-held secret is revealed, changing everything.

There are just eight cast members, with piano accompaniment from Musical Director David Eaton, but never does it feel underpopulated. The performers sing out to fill a space twice as big as King’s Head Theatre. The acting is spot on, too, with some terrific slapstick performances from the three sailors.

Special mention must go to Alys Roberts as Josephine, who projects her vibrant soprano with both sweetness and power. Jennie Jacobs is excellent as Mrs Cripps/Little Buttercup – her acting, comic timing and contralto voice all wonderful. Philip Lee’s rendition of ‘The nightingale’ is simply beautiful.

The action has been moved to a submarine – it’s yellow – which suits the enclosed feeling of the intimate venue. The set is very minimalist, but John Savournin’s direction uses the space well.

This is a playful, lighthearted production of one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most enduringly popular operettas. It doesn’t play too heavily on the satirical elements, lampooning the British class system, although the mockery of the rise of unqualified people to positions of authority seems particularly timely. It sparkles with wit and joy, and I defy anyone to not leave with smile on their face.

The show runs until 11 May. You can book tickets here.



Alys Roberts as Josephine and Philip Lee as Ralph Rackstraw in HMS Pinafore (Robert Workman).