An introduction to HMS Pinafore

One of Gilbert & Sullivan’s most beloved works, HMS Pinafore tells a classic tale of a forbidden love, and the troubles that must be overcome before our hero and heroine can be together. If you like your operas to have a bit of tongue-in-cheek humour, we think you’ll love HMS Pinafore.

Read up on Gilbert & Sullivan’s uproarious operetta:

Iolanthe’s award-winning director returns

HMS Pinafore was directed by the award-winning Cal McCrystal, who made his ENO directorial debut with the 2018 production of Iolanthe.

Known for his work on National Theatre’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors and the Paddington film series, McCrystal received universal acclaim for Iolanthe’s creative staging (‘the entire auditorium soon rocked with communal mirth, a rarity in any opera house, and a tonic’, The Observer), and brings charm of the titular ship to the London Coliseum in this brand new production of HMS Pinafore.

HMS Pinafore (sometimes known by its longer title HMS Pinafore; or, The Lass That Loved a Sailor), has a classic Gilbert and Sullivan plot: forbidden love, unforeseen plot twists and a farcical ending. When Josephine, the daughter of Captain Corcoran, falls for Ralph Rackstraw, a lowly seaman, she has to contest with her planned marriage to Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Who she will end up with is anyone’s bet!

As with most of Gilbert & Sullivan’s works, HMS Pinafore is a parody of the world in which it was written, using thinly veiled characters and situations that poke fun at the individuals being mocked. Whilst you’d think 19th century references would go over the head of us 21st century opera-goers, you’d be mistaken!

An allusion that plays into the heart of Pinafore’s love story is the rigidity of the social class structure that exists in Britain, and the rise of unqualified people to positions of authority – something just as relevant in 2021 as it was in 1878!

One of librettist W.S Gilbert and composer Sir Arthur Sullivan’s most beloved comic operettas, HMS Pinafore opened in May 1878 at the Opera Comique, a London Theatre that has since been destroyed to make way for the Kingsway and Aldwych roads.

Having previous premiered The Sorcerer at Opera Comique with the Comedy Opera Company in 1877, HMS Pinafore was picked by the company’s leader Richard D’Oyly Carte to follow. The new operetta was a huge success, running for 571 performances in London, the second-longest theatrical run in history, to that date. Pinafore was a success in America too, where hundreds of ‘pirated’, unlicensed performances of the operetta were performed.