The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of WA set sail with HMS Pinafore

William James Smith and Belinda Cox. Picture: Andrew Ritchie
William James Smith and Belinda Cox. Picture: Andrew Ritchie

SECOND-YEAR UWA medicine student William James Smith has so far resisted pressure to shave his beard off for clinical placements and attributes the decision to his casting as Captain Corcoran in The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of WA’s production HMS Pinafore.

“I believe I was beard-cast,” Smith said.

“I had it when I auditioned and am sure they saw the beard and thought ‘This man has to be put in a position of authority’. My beard will be signing autographs at the end of the show.”

Smith moved from Victoria to Perth to study and has performed lead roles with Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Victoria.

This will be his first production with The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of WA after allowing himself a year to settle into his studies.

“It’s a little bit hectic and requires a fair bit of planning, but there are quite a few parents doing my course, including mums with small children,” Smith said.

“So I figured if they could fit it all in, I could do this.”

HMS Pinafore was the inaugural production for the society in 1951 and it returns with the 1878 comic opera set on the high seas that became Gilbert and Sullivan’s first international hit.

“The story behind it is that love levels all ranks,” Smith said.

“It’s set onboard the ship HMS Pinafore and my character Captain Corcoran is not very happy because he wants to marry his daughter Josephine off to the first lord of the admiralty, Sir Joseph Porter.

“She’s not really keen on it because unknown to him, she is in love with one of the sailors on his ship.

“He spends the story trying to persuade her that marrying Joseph is a good idea and she spends the whole story trying to get out of it.”

Smith attributed the show’s longevity to Sullivan’s wonderful tunes, Gilbert’s comedy genius and the fact it is an opera in English.

“If you can’t speak German or Italian, then you’re kind of stuck,” he said.

“And comedy is usually so relevant to a certain culture at a certain time but Gilbert has just tapped into something eternal.

“I just think the cheekiness of wanting to take the mickey out of anyone in authority will never go away.

“Although Sullivan is really patriotic, so you get these stirring anthems that are positive towards Britain; you’re allowed to have your cake and eat it too.”


What: HMS Pinafore

Where: Dolphin Theatre, UWA

When: May 18 to 27