It’s Village People meets South Pacific in this all-male HMS Pinafore in Cambridge

HMS Pinafore

HMS Pinafore - Credit: Archant

If you like your Gilbert and Sullivan served in a traditional way: Victorian costumes and unfussy singing, you may want to give this HMS Pinafore a wide berth. Sasha Regan’s all-male version of the 1878 operetta tears up the D’Oyly Carte songbook to create a rather audacious, determinedly beefy but somehow unsatisfying production.

If you enjoy watching muscular men strip down to dress up as women, and if you don’t mind this nautical tale of British snobbery on board her majesty’s ship being turned into a high camp prance-fest, then this show is for you.

The large men-only cast really goes to sea with its masculine antics – a kind of Village People meets South Pacific complete with falsetto singing and much cheeky campery. It reminded one of a Carry On film. Indeed you could imagine Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtry loving this show.

W.S. Gilbert’s admittedly dated tale of a rich lass (the Cap’n’s daughter) who falls in love with a lowly sailor thus spiking the chances of her suitor, the very rich Ruler of the Queen’s Navy, was not helped by what was an unrelentingly energetic performance. No opportunity for choreographic capering was missed often to the detriment of some witty lyrics and some rather lovely ballads. It felt as though the director fearing that perhaps younger audiences would not ‘get’ operetta, tried too hard to pep up proceedings with cartwheels, leaps and general tumbling.

There were several really strong performances: David McKechnie’s Little Buttercup grew in stature and even brought a touch of poignancy to what is after all a caricature of the ageing old maid.

Ben Irish had the most female stuff to do as Josephine, the love-stricken Cap’n’s daughter. He coped well with the high soprano notes (albeit a bit rough at the top end of the scale) and brought a touch of genuine emotion to a paper-thin part. Other parts were played with conviction though the main baddie character, Dick Deadeye, was surprisingly flat and un-engaging.

You certainly could not fault this production for its inventiveness (including some very effective use of torches) but its physicality was a touch exhausting and the songs were often overshadowed by the chaps wiggling their collective hips or rolling their eyes. As someone who enjoys G&S served in a trad way, this production of HMS Pinafore failed to float my boat.