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Trial by Jury and H.M.S. Pinafore at the Arts Theatre, Tranchell, The Cambridge Review, 29th November 1952

Last Tuesday the Cambridge Amateur Operatic Society began a fortnight’s run. The double bill makes a very pleasant evening, and though Trial by Jury might on this occasion almost be called “Ordeal by Music,” the performance of H.M.S. Pinafore sets a very high standard indeed. The Trial manages to be extremely amusing, with much delicious business, and the cast evidently enjoy it, and no one in particular is to blame for its musical raggedness. But ragged, I fear, it was.

Pinafore was highly praiseworthy. The orchestral thinking-caps had been tied on firmly, and deputies sent home, and even though the brass seemed from time to time to have taken a swig from a bottle of “Bubblo,” all went reasonably well. The chorus still need to watch the conductor—it is all too easy during passages of business to drag the music without realising. And I consider it a mistake to switch all the lights on in the middle of the night (Act II).

However, the better points of the show are almost too numerous to mention. Vera Halcrow made a fine figure of a little Buttercup. Roy Wilkinson, as the Captain, gave an outstanding performance. I heard his every word, wherever he was, and he seemed to be invariably in tune.

Dennis Millmore, as the First Lord of the Admiralty, carried off a part somewhat above his years with astonishing aplomb. The only thing that betrayed his youth was his voice and his incredible agility in the bell-ringing trio of Act II. Here three encores were navigated with considerable dexterity.

Zillah Lean was an entrancing Josephine, and sang for the most part delightfully. I would prefer to hear her high B flats and Cs sung at fuller force, in spite of the temptation there is for a singer to show she can do them pianissimo.

Harry Pogson’s Ralph Rackstraw was in every way excellent till he started singing softly and sentimentally. Then, on each occasion, his words became indistinguishable and his tone woolly. His opening lines would be more telling if enunciated clearly and sung louder, for when using full voice, his singing could be most enjoyable.

There were of course moments of anxiety. The unhappiest was perhaps the unaccompanied trio of Rackstraw, Bobstay and Becket (the song specially composed by the First Sea Lord), where Rackstraw and Becket managed in their fourth or fifth phrase to pull the pitch down. When the orchestra and chorus joined in, there were some ugly seconds of re-adjustment.

The two young men playing Marines seemed to be wearing more lipstick than all the female chorus put together, but had laudably chosen a shade to match their red jackets. The lesser soloists were very satisfactory, and the chorus of sailors, aunts and cousins sang and acted with admirable verve. The evening was in fact greatly entertaining and the Company is to be congratulated.

Peter Tranchell