REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on York Opera in HMS Pinafore, York Theatre Royal

Jack Storey-Hunter’s Ralph Rackstraw, Polina Bielova’s Hebe, centre, and Alexandra Mather’s Josephine in York Opera’s HMS Pinafore. All pictures: Ben Lindley

Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, York Opera, at York Theatre Royal, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm and 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office: 01904 623568 or

THREE members of York Opera make important debuts in the company’s latest foray into Gilbert & Sullivan. They contributed significantly to the triumphant success of opening night.

Annabel van Griethuysen’s ingenious production mines a good deal more humour than is usually found in HMS Pinafore. Jack Storey-Hunter gives an extremely assured performance in the role of Ralph Rackstraw. Tim Selman steps up to the rostrum to conduct his first opera with the company.

But there is so much strength in depth in this company that you can virtually guarantee a really satisfying evening, whatever they do. So it is here. Good G & S relies on a sturdy chorus. The ladies – the First Lord of the Admiralty’s ‘sisters and his cousins and his aunts’ – seem to have welcomed some new blood and sing with immense conviction and presence. They are clearly enjoying themselves.

John Soper’s Sir Joseph Porter KCB surrounded by ‘his sisters and his cousins and his aunts’

The men are equally lusty, slightly older hands maybe, but none the worse for wear and all the more credible as hard-bitten tars. An innovation here is a semi-chorus of eight, four ladies, four men, who deliver three sea shanties, including an especially offbeat version of What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor?.

The other two shanties are not quite so effective and, for the sake of continuity, one in each of the two acts would be enough. But the idea is excellent. It was typical of a production that goes out of its way not to rely on the traditional ‘business’ that so often dogs Savoy operas. Who has ever seen a sailor chased by a mouse here? Or Rackstraw having soothing cream applied to his wrists after being released from irons? There were countless such instances, most of them witty.

There are many old friends among the principals, none more so than John Soper as Sir Porter. Believe it or not, he has been with this company for more than 50 years, yet his baritone is as firm as ever. He struts his stuff superbly but is not above laughing at himself. When I Was A Lad was hilarious. He catches the eye whenever he appears.

Ian Thomson-Smith is another old hand with the company and his Captain Corcoran – albeit wearing commander’s stripes – does not disappoint. I Am The Captain Of The Pinafore goes with tremendous verve and he is a cheery soul throughout, even when he has to play straight man to Porter.

Ian Thomson-Smith’s Captain Corcoran with Anthony Gardner’s piratical Dick Deadeye

Jack Storey-Hunter’s Rackstraw announces himself in a firm, confident tenor, declaring his love for Josephine. He is not above re-joining his mates but maintains an admirable manner even when seemingly spurned by his intended. This was a most promising start.

First-night nerves can kick in unexpectedly and Rebecca Smith at first made a restrained Buttercup, but she sustained a perfect West Country brogue – emulated to a degree by the chorus men – and relaxed as the evening progressed.

Alexandra Mather’s Josephine followed a similar course. As the top of her soprano opened out in Act 2, so too did her personality. Both will progress over the five shows.

There are more than useful contributions from Anthony Gardner’s piratical Dick Deadeye and Polina Bielova’s effervescent Hebe, who ends up as Sir Joseph’s bride. Hers is a voice that we shall undoubtedly hear again. Fine cameos from Alex Holland’s bo’sun and Mark Simmonds’ carpenter round out the principals.

Alexandra Mather’s Josephine, the Captain’s daughter

Joseph Soper’s permanent set, with poop deck above and behind the quarterdeck, emblazoned with VR insignia, more than serves the purpose. It is backed up in similarly authentic style by Maggie Soper’s costume team.

Amy Carter’s carefully conceived choreography does not always earn the discipline it deserves. Doubtless it will improve with time, but better to cut the numbers and keep it tight than throw everyone into the ring for every dance.

Last, but certainly not least, is Tim Selman’s sizeable orchestra, which includes several established figures including leader Claire Jowett. They have rhythmic zest to burn. Occasionally Selman follows his soloists rather than lead them and tempos sag slightly. Otherwise, he keeps a firm hand on the tiller.

As the nights draw in and temperatures dip, I can think of no better way to warm your spirits than this rousing show. You dare not miss it.

Review by Martin Dreyer

The lusty-voiced Men’s Chorus in York Opera’s HMS Pinafore

Looking for More Things To Do in York and beyond? I got you, babe. Time to share Hutch’s List No. 105, courtesy of The Press

Made for Chering: Millie O’Connell’s Babe, left, Debbie Kurup’s Star and Danielle Steers’ Lady in The Cher Show: A New Musical. Picture: Matt Crockett

FROM Cher times three and Charlie and that chocolate factory, to G&S and Oliver!, musical entertainment dominates Charles Hutchinson’s diary.

Cher, Cher and Cher alike: The Cher Show: A New Musical, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, Wednesday and Saturday

TURNING back time, Millie O’Connell’s Babe, Danielle Steers’s Lady and Debbie Kurup’s Star share out the Cher role in The Cher Show, the story of the American singer, actress and television personality’s meteoric rise to fame as she flies in the face of convention at every turn.

This celebration of the “Goddess of Pop” and “Queen of Reinvention” packs in 35 hits, I Got You Babe, If I Could Turn Back Time, Strong Enough, The Shoop Shoop Song, Believe et al. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or

Oliver at the double: Fin Walker, left, and Zachary Pickersgill will be sharing the title role in NE’s production of Oliver!

Community musical of the fortnight: NE in Oliver!, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, November 16 to 19 and 22 to 26, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, Saturday matinees

NE, formerly NE Musicals York and soon to be renamed again, are performing a fortnight’s run for the first time, presenting Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! in a revised version that complements the familiar songs and characters with added scenes to “bring the story to life in more detail”. 

Two teams of performers will be undertaking alternate performances, led by Zachary Pickersgill and Fin Walker, sharing the role of Oliver Twist, and Henry Barker and Toby Jensen’s Artful Dodger. Director Steve Tearle plays Fagin for the fourth time, joined in the production team by musical director Scott Phillips and choreographer Ellie Roberts. Box office: 01904 501935 or

Exhibition of the week: Lesley Seeger & Katherine Bree, Pigment & Stone, Pyramid Gallery, Stonegate, York, in collaboration until November 27

Jewellery designer Katherine Bree, left, and artist Lesley Seeger in the North Yorkshire countryside

LESLEY Seeger and Katherine Bree form Yorkshire-London collaboration for the painting and gemstone show Pigment & Stone at Pyramid Gallery.

In a celebration of form and colour with an earthy elemental twist, city jewellery designer Katherine has chosen paintings by Huttons Ambo landscape painter Lesley as inspiration for her new collection of gemstone treasures.

Katherine divides her collections into the four elements – earth, air, fire and water – and this provides a perfect complement to Lesley’s elemental paintings, which she describes as “talismans that will reveal themselves over time with their rich histories of place, layers and colour”.

Love-struck at sea: Jack Storey-Hunter’s sailor Ralph and Alexandra Mather’s Josephine, the Captain’s daughter, in York Opera’s HMS Pinafore

Light opera of the week: York Opera in HMS Pinafore, York Theatre Royal, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm Saturday matinee

YORK Opera sets sail in Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta HMS Pinafore or The Lass That Loved A Sailor, steered by a new command of stage director Annabel van Griethuysen and conductor Tim Selman.

The story follows Ralph (society newcomer Jack Storey-Hunter), a lovesick sailor, and Josephine (Alexandra Mather), the Captain’s daughter, who are madly in love but kept apart by social hierarchy. All aboard for such G&S favourites as We Sail The Ocean Blue, Never Mind The Why And Wherefore and When I Was A Lad. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory cast members in the rehearsal room at Leeds Playhouse. Picture: Johan Persson

Yorkshire’s big opening of the week: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory – The Musical, Leeds Playhouse, November 18 to January 28

CHOCK-A-BLOCK! Around 30,000 chocoholics have booked their golden ticket already for Leeds Playhouse’s winter musical spectacular, presented in association with Neal Street Productions and Playful Productions ahead of a British tour.

Songs such as The Candy Man and Pure Imagination from the film versions of Roald Dahl’s sweet-toothed adventure will be bolstered by new songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Gareth Snook’s Willy Wonka, Kazmin Borrer’s Veruca Salt and Robin Simoes Da Silva’s Augustus Gloop lead James Brining’s cast; Amelia Minto, Isaac Sugden, Kayleen Nguema and Noah Walton share the role of Charlie Bucket. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or

Chloe Latchmore: York Musical Society’s mezzo-soprano soloist for The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace at York Minster

Classical concert of the week: York Musical Society, The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace, York Minster, November 19, 7.30pm

YORK Musical Society’s dramatic performance of Sir Karl Jenkins’s powerful work The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace features full orchestra and soloists soprano Ella Taylor, mezzo-soprano Chloe Latchmore, tenor Greg Tassell and baritone Thomas Humphreys.

Jenkins’s work will be complemented by Joseph Haydn’s lyrical 1796 Mass In Time Of War – Missa In Tempore Belli, also known as Paukenmesse (Kettle Drum Mass in German), on account of its kettle drum solo. Box office: 01904 623568, at and on the door.

The poster for South Bank Studios’ Art & Craft Winter Fair at Southlands Methodist Church

Looking for Christmas presents? South Bank Studios Art & Craft Winter Fair, Southlands Methodist Church, November 19, 10am to 5pm

SOUTH Bank Studios’ winter fair assembles 28 artists and crafters, who will be displaying and selling their original artwork and creations, targeted at the Christmas market.

Browers and buyers alike can tour the 18 studios within the church building’s upper floors with a chance to meet assorted artists in situ. Entry is free and refreshments are available throughout the day.

Julie Madly Deeply: Sarah-Louise Young celebrating the life and songs of Dame Julie Andrews at Theatre@41. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

Truly scrumptious show of the week: Sarah-Louise Young in Julie Madly Deeply, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, November 20, 7.30pm

AFTER her glorious An Evening Without Kate Bush, Fringe favourite Sarah-Louise Young returns to York with her West End and Off-Broadway smash in celebration of “genuine showbiz icon” Dame Julie Andrews.

Fascinating Aida alumna Young’s charming yet cheeky cabaret takes a look at fame and fandom by intertwining Andrews’ songs from Mary Poppins, The Sound Of Music and My Fair with stories and anecdotes of her life, from her beginnings as a child star to the challenges of losing her singing voice, in a humorous, candid love letter to a showbusiness survivor. Box office:

Strictly between them: Ten – yes ten, count’em – Strictly Come Dancing professionals will be sashaying their way to York Barbican next May

Hot ticket of the week: Get a move on for Strictly Come Dancing – The Professionals, York Barbican, May 12 2023

 HURRY, hurry! The last few tickets are still on sale for a spectacular line-up of ten professional dancers from the hit BBC show: Strictly professionals Dianne Buswell; Vito Coppola; Carlos Gu; Karen Hauer; Neil Jones; Nikita Kuzmin; Gorka Marquez; Luba Mushtuk; Jowita Przystal and Nancy Xu.

“Don’t miss your chance to see these much-loved dancers coming together to perform in a theatrical ensemble that will simply take your breath away,” says the Barbican blurb. Box office:

York Opera head to sea in Gilbert and Sullivan’s love-struck HMS Pinafore at York Theatre Royal from November 16 to 19

Madly in love but kept apart by social hierarchy: Lovesick sailor Ralph (Jack Storey-Hunter) and the Captain’s daughter, Josephine (Alexandra Mather), in York Opera’s HMS Pinafore

YORK Opera will set sail at York Theatre Royal with Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta HMS Pinafore or The Lass That Loved A Sailor from November 16, steered by a new production team of Annabel van Griethuysen and Tim Selman.

Stage director Annabel and conductor Tim will be at the helm of a production at the Theatre Royal for the first time.

HMS Pinafore was G&S’s first big success, both in Great Britain and the United States, establishing their still undiminished position at the pinnacle of light opera in this country.

Although they had had significant success with Trial By Jury and The Sorcerer, the world of light opera in the 1850s and 1860s was dominated by the works of Jacques Offenbach, full of catchy tunes and brilliantly orchestrated. 

Breaking into this field of theatre and dominating it across the English-speaking world must be due greatly to the witty and topical libretti by W.S. Gilbert. In conjunction with Sullivan’s sparkling and tuneful musical settings, HMS Pinafore established the rock on which all the subsequent G&S repertoire would be founded.

Annabel van Griethuysen’s Carmen in York Opera’s Carmen at York Theatre Royal in October 2018. Now dietician Annabel switches from mezzo-soprano singing to stage directing HMS Pinafore

The story follows Ralph, a lovesick sailor, and Josephine, the Captain’s daughter, who are madly in love but kept apart by social hierarchy. The musical numbers, loved by young and old alike, include We Sail The Ocean Blue, Never Mind The Why And Wherefore and When I Was A Lad.

As usual with York Opera’s G & S productions, a healthy mix of youth and experience combines in the cast. New to the company are Jack Storey-Hunter in the leading tenor role of Ralph Rackstraw and Polina Bielova as Cousin Hebe. 

Well-known cast members in the line-up include Alexandra Mather in the leading soprano role of Josephine; John Soper as Sir Joseph Porter; Ian Thomson-Smith as Captain Corcoran; Rebecca Smith as Little Buttercup and Anthony Gardner as Dick Deadeye.

York Opera in Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, York Theatre Royal, November 16 to 19, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Sea-bound: Jack Storey-Hunter’s Ralph and Alexandra Mather’s Josephine in York Opera’s HMS Pinafore