The Hypocrites, a performing company based in Chicago, have made their return to Actors Theatre of Louisville. Last year they performed an adaptation of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance where the setting was as if performed by the kids from Lord of the Flies. This year, they brought us an adaptation of H.M.S. Pinafore setup like a slumber party. A slide leading into a pillow pit and bunk beds were prominent features of the set. The cast were costumed in pajamas and robes.
Both Pirates and Pinafore were excellent experiences. They were presented in promenade style, where not only the performers but also much of the audience was down on stage, on the set, singing along (if you wanted to.) If you happened to be sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time, a cast member or stage manager would tap you on the shoulder or give you a strong point to let you know you need to move.
It lead to some fun interactions that can’t really make it into a script. Like a man professed his love for a woman in character, then a little girl reacted out loud with a sudden exclamation, “that’s creepy!” The kid got just as good a laugh as any joke. “Yes! And you’re about to see a lot more of it!” the actor replied, not missing a beat.
One woman sat on a bench that was a soloist’s primary staging for a song, and had to keep switching seats throughout the tune while he moved around. Just as she got comfortable on a different bench, the soloist headed that way and interrupted the song with a quick “I’m afraid I’ll need that bench too!” where she moved yet again while the soloist was then joined by another cast member for a brief duet.
The best thing about these adaptations is that they cause reactions just as the originals would’ve in their day. A patter song itself doesn’t get the laughs or wows from a popular opinion today, but when the Hypocrites put their spin on a patter song it sure does. They disregard the need to keep Pinafore pure, and instead perform the hell out of it so it will be appreciated as entertainment, not as a history.
Another great choice made in this adaptation was to gender-swap most of the roles. Having a crew full of women and a “good boy” as the captain’s son let some talented actresses play more fleshed-out roles. G&S had great musical sense for their day (and in today’s standards too, I’d argue) but equality in women’s roles wasn’t their strong suit. If your first introduction to Pinafore was this one, you may very well have not noticed anything odd about it because the swap was done so well. The man playing Buttercup may get most of the praise for that seamlessness.
H.M.S. Pinafore will be playing at Actors Theatre through December 13th. I’d recommend seeing it and bringing a friend. It’s a really short show, about 80 minutes with a 1 minute intermission. Yes, really, a 1-minute intermission. Enough time to do four 15-second things, or a two 30-second things. Anyway, you get a lot of bang for your buck and there’s still time to go out for a drink afterwards.
Or, you can go home and watch “Cape Feare,” an episode of the Simpsons where Bart convinces Sideshow Bob to sing the entirety of H.M.S. Pinafore before murdering him. You’ll get to sing along!
Honorable mention to Picard, Worf and Data singing “A British Tar:”