This production of H.M.S. Pinafore is set at a time when the Royal Navy was reeling from huge cutbacks, when well known ships were being laid up and scrapped, when serving personnel were being made redundant and when many career officers were very worried about their future. On land the government was cutting back on expenditure whilst attempting to enforce legislation on equality passed in the previous decade. There was a growing pressure for electoral reform and Britain was reassessing its relationship with its European neighbours and its former colonies overseas.
If all of this sounds familiar to a modern audience, then it is merely a testament to the cleverness and timelessness of Gilbert's writing, because this production is set in the time of Jane Austen.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a novel by Jane Austen is likely to be concerned with the problems that inequality of social standing bring to romance, and frequently involves the tribulations surrounding the marriage prospects of a young female from an impecunious family.
These two themes are also central to Gilbert's libretto for H.M.S. Pinafore; the conflict between Josephine's sense of familial duty and the dictates of her heart, together with the clear class divisions between the seamen, whose berths are for'ard, and the officers and guests who live aft, are what drive the production.
Two of the criticisms often, and justly, levied against H.M.S. Pinafore are its brevity and the lack of opportunities for female singers. I have attempted to overcome both problems by relying on historical and naval accuracy. Contrary to general belief, women were frequently on board Royal Navy ships during and just after the Napoleonic wars, and this, together with knowledge of the daily routine on board ship in that period allows us to produce an innovative and MUGSSian production with a separate, second, opera performed between Acts 1 and 2 of Pinafore.
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