Guest post from Vinca Russell
This fringe, in amongst a host of new musicals and interpretations of hot Broadway shows, there are just two written by Gilbert and Sullivan.
One, HMS Pinafore, is being performed by local company Cat Like Tread. At Æ we were intrigued when the company emerged last year, because G&S are perennial favourites on the amateur scene. Why a new company?
Pinafore Cast by the Sea. Photo: Cat-Like Tread
Here, Vinca Russell who is the producer of this Pinafore, and a co-founder, explains why the company was set up – and finds some excellent modern contexts for ancient G&S quotes.
We set up Cat-Like Tread in 2014 because we love Gilbert and Sullivan shows and they seemed to be underrepresented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, despite there being plenty of local groups performing their shows in and around Edinburgh during the rest of the year. Sure enough, we were the only company performing a regular G&S show (‘The Pirates of Penzance’) at the Fringe last year.
This year, we decided to come back again and perform H.M.S. Pinafore (one of two G&S shows at this year’s Fringe). When we announced our show choice, the G&S fans said ‘ooh, we love that one’, many people said ‘never heard of it’, but my favourite response was ‘where will I have heard that one?’
You see, the thing with Gilbert and Sullivan is that even though their shows are over a hundred years old, they still crop up in all sorts of places and the chances are that you’ll have heard something from one of their shows without even realising it.
I think my favourite occurrence is in The West Wing. It’s Ainsley Hayes’ first day working in the White House and everyone is being mean to her, including her boss, who keeps insisting that ‘For He is an Englishman’ is from The Pirates of Penzance, when Ainsley knows it’s from H.M.S. Pinafore. At the end of the episode, the President’s staff decorate her office with posters from Gilbert and Sullivan shows and greet her by singing ‘For He is an Englishman’. It makes her feel welcome and is one of the many feel-good moments that I enjoy about West Wing’.
I asked the rest of our cast and crew to tell me their favourite moments…
Thomas Ware (Sailor):
A particular favourite of mine is the G&S sketch in That Mitchell and Webb Look, where they play the duo struggling to write a new hit: “I don’t understand it Gilbert! The British public simply isn’t getting our new work!” Gilbert (David Mitchell) comes up with a bright idea that they do a sequel… HMS Pinafore 2! (“I don’t understand… HMS Pinafore as well?”). They do it again, with a twist… “set among the stars on a voyage of great enterprise.” What follows is a Star Trek Pinafore, possibly a dig at the many amateur productions of Pinafore done like this (HMS Enterprise etc.) but also a hat-tip to Star Trek’s Pinafore jokes!
Frasier always does a great job of including Gilbert & Sullivan references to lampoon ‘high culture’. There is a very funny scene where Frasier and his brother are playing the Major-General’s Song on the piano and their (uninitiated) father joins in “…with many cheerful facts about the scary hippopotamus” (as opposed to “square of the hypotenuse.” Family Guy pick up on this too when they include G&S in their joke about Frasier: “blah blah blah opera, blah blah blah wine, blah blah blah Gilbert & Sullivan…”
Gary Armstrong (Sailor):
I think the one that I least expected was Raiders of the Lost Ark, which has not one but TWO references. Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) gives us some lines from both ‘A British Tar’ and ‘I am the Monarch of the Sea’, and given that the lyrics are not quite right I suspect he is a fan and added those parts in himself
Tom Paton (Captain Corcoran):
There are lots of references to Pinafore in popular media that I’m sure everyone knows, however one that I didn’t realise until recently is in Indian Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. John Rhys-Jones’ character sings ‘A British Tar’ at the quay side. A particular favourite of mine is Patrick Stewart (as Capt. Picard) and Brent Spiner’s (as Data) duet in Star Trek: Insurrection.
Erika Ishimaru (Sister/Cousin/Aunt):
In ‘Star Trek Insurrection’, Captain Picard and Lt. commander Warf sing HMS Pinafore’s ‘A British Tar’ to distract the malfunctioning Android, Data, as he had recently been rehearsing for an amateur production of ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’. The original draft of the film saw Captain Picard quoting King Lear to distract the android, however Patrick Stewart suggested this be changed to Gilbert and Sullivan.
The scene is supremely cheesy, it’s one of those ‘so bad it’s good’ moments. I get the feeling that Patrick Stewart put G&S into the film mostly to amuse himself rather than the audience! Whatever the reason for its strange cameo, it’s good to know that even in the space-tastic future, amateurs are still putting together productions of this fab show!
Keith Starsmeare (Dick Deadeye):
As a total Trekkie my absolute favourite reference to Pinafore is in ‘Star Trek Insurrection’ where Picard, Data and Warf sing A British Tar. I’ll be tempted to prepare the docking clamps between the two verses, but it wouldn’t make any sense in our production.
Anna Thomson (Sister/Cousin/Aunt):
When I told my friends I was in H.M.S. Pinafore they all said ‘oh that one the Side-show Bob sings?!’… But honestly my favourite reference to it is from I could go on singing (1963) with Judy Garland when she insists ‘no, ANTS!’ not ‘aunts’ in her perfect drawling rendition of I am the Monarch of the Sea. It was her last film and she was so herself sitting at a piano and singing along with an incredibly well made-ed Joseph Porter that I can’t help but love it.
Rebecca Campbell (Sister/Cousin/Aunt):
Usually my boyfriend expresses little to no interest in my musical hobbies, so I was bemused when he reacted very enthusiastically when I told him I would be doing H.M.S. Pinafore. For a couple of weeks, I was baffled to hear him humming tunes from the show – he seemed to know it better than I did, but whenever I questioned him, he would just say that he had heard me singing the songs. Eventually, everything became clear when he showed me a clip from one of his favourite TV shows, The Simpsons, where a character performs an abridged (and flamboyant) version of H.M.S. Pinafore. Although the clip captures the fun of G&S, I don’t think the makers of the episode had ever seen the show – all of the songs are taken wildly out of context!
Sarah Whitty (Director + Sister/Cousin/Aunt):
My favourite reference is in Family Guy. Peter is sent to play American football for a rubbish team in England called ‘The London Sillinannies’ who are said to be the weakest team in all of Europe. When they are introduced, they are shown dancing around a Maypole on the football field singing, If you marry me from The Sorcerer.
Farlane Whitty (Director + Carpenter’s Mate):
It’s not TV or Film… but in computer RPG games Mass Effect 2 (and 3), there is a mad scientist alien character called Mordin who frequently references Gilbert and Sullivan. It’s genius! “I am the very model of a scientist Salarian… I’ve studied species Turian, Asari and Batarian. I’m quite good at genetics (as a subset of biology) Because I am an expert (which I know is a tautology)”
Paradise in Augustines (Venue 152) 41 George IV Bridge, EH1 1EL
Monday 24 – Sunday 30 August 2015
Daily: 7.25pm – running time 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Venue box office: 0131 510 0022
Tickets: £10/£8 (conc.)
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/h-m-s-pinafore
Company website: www.catliketread.com