Director Kate Gaul gets audience onboard with Siren Theatre Co’s H.M.S Pinafore

Kate Gaul. Photographer Alex Vaughan.

Kate Gaul. Photographer Alex Vaughan.

Siren Theatre Co’s H.M.S Pinafore, a new Australian take on the classic Gilbert and Sullivan musical, returns to Sydney this January as part of the Sydney Festival program. Director Kate Gaul joins us to discuss the production.

Can you tell us in a sentence what Sydney Festival audiences can expect from H.M.S. Pinafore?

Audiences can expect a comic operetta that honours and respects its source material, is deeply silly and carries with it a message of hope for anyone lost at sea.

It’s not unusual for a cast to break up for a time before regrouping for a new season, but this year a worldwide pandemic occurred in between your regional tour and this Sydney Festival run. What’s the mood in the cast, and how are rehearsals so far?

We were extremely lucky to complete the NSW regional tour this year on March 12 – just before pandemic lockdown. In some ways it feels as if time has stood still. Everyone is thrilled to be bringing the show to a much bigger theatre in Sydney. We don’t commence rehearsals until January but it’s a busy pre-production period getting everything together.

H.M.S. Pinafore seems a brilliant programming move by Sydney Festival – everyone needs a dose of levity this summer. Can you tell us about the light moments and how they’ve been crafted?

Gilbert & Sullivan is serious stuff but of course it should never be taken too seriously! The cast move effortlessly from playing musical instruments, singing, dancing and acting. At one moment they are in pristine white sailor uniforms; the next, they don party gear reminiscent of the old days on Oxford St. The entire production has just a touch of the town-hall about it – irreverent, funny and a bit rough around the edges: just as Gilbert & Sullivan would have liked it.

Its themes of social divide, obsession with social status, party politics and patriotism feel very fresh today. In the context of the changes to the Marriage Equality Act in Australia the production has a deeper resonance around the notion of LOVE IS LOVE. The production ends with a semaphore in flags – in which this phrase is literally signalled.

As difficult as 2020 has been the year will provide a rich source for theatre makers and creatives. Have you found new readings of Pinafore through the lens of the pandemic and its wider effects or some of the big other global issues from 2020? 

I think the necessity to go out and grab life with the full force of hearts and minds; to embody the rally for justice over social and political forces; and our continued need for hope are themes which will resonate in our current context.

After playing the Hayes, taking Pinafore to the Riverside must require some creative discussions. Can you tell us how you’re tackling the scale of the show?

So, when we first conceived this production and its premiere this time last year we knew it would be touring to larger proscenium arch theatres in 2020 (which it did for its tour). Once the production left the Hayes the stage setting became larger and taller and we used some technical wizardry to maintain the acoustic feel of the production. With one or two further adjustments we are ready for Riverside!

Finally, who would you say is the audience for this show?

The production has proven appeal to both metro and regional audience – and of course each audience is unique. This H.M.S Pinafore is not only the G&S crowd but for families (bring the grand kids!), the queer community and lovers of music theatre and opera.

H.M.S Pinafore

13 – 23 January 2021 | Riverside Theatre, Parramatta
Tickets selling fast. Book now.

Watch the trailer

Image: Kate Gaul. Photographer Alex Vaughan.