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Music and Libretto by Ethel Smyth
Based on a Story by W.W. Jacobs
Directed by Tom Littler
Musical Direction by Tim Jackson
Designed by Pip Swindall
Lighting by Christopher Nairne
Presented by Primavera in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre
Cast in order of appearance
Harry Benn, ex - boatswain - Walter van Dyk
Marry-Ann, barmaid - Helena Johnson
Mrs Waters, Landlady of ‘The Beehie’ - Sian Jones
Ned Travers, ex-soldier - Anthony Flaum
Policeman - Andrew McDonald
Pianist - Timothy End
The Celebrating British Music Theatre series continues with a fully costumed production-without-décor of the comic opera by Dame Ethel Smyth, composer and suffragette, and widely regarded as the first female opera composer.
Written in 1914 and unseen in London for more than 50 years, The Boatswain’s Mate is Smyth’s fourth and most obviously feminist opera. A witty and inventive battle of the sexes, it features a feisty heroine – supposedly based on Emmeline Pankhurst – who outwits her suitors in a series of entertaining and resourceful deceptions. Mrs Waters is a wealthy widow whose first husband has left her with a country pub and a determination never to remarry. When the retired boatswain George Benn devises a scheme to win her hand by ‘saving’ her from a burglar whom he has in fact paid to break in, he reckons without her bravery and quick-wittedness.
Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) was born to a strict military family in which she was introduced to music and composition as ladylike activities suited to her position in society. As a teenager, however, she became determined to pursue music as a career and went on a prolonged hunger-strike to persuade her formidable father to allow her to study in Leipzig. Her operas included Fantasio and The Wreckers, and she also found success with orchestral and choral works such as her enduringly popular Mass in D (1891) – as well as providing the anthem for the suffragette movement, The March of the Women. A prominent suffragette, Smyth met and fell in love with Emmeline Pankhurst (buried next to the Finborough Theatre in Brompton Cemetery) in 1910 and dedicated two years to the suffragette movement as political activist and its unofficial composer. She spent several weeks imprisoned in Holloway for the cause, during which she conducted a famous performance of The March of the Women with her toothbrush! Later in life, Smyth fought for political causes such as a subsidized national opera for England and the rights of female orchestral musicians. In 1922, she became a D.B.E.
Director Tom Littler is directing three rediscoveries at the Finborough Theatre this Summer including Henry Hubert Davies’ The Mollusc and T.S. Eliot’s The Confidential Clerk. He has directed over twenty productions including Stephen Sondheim’s Passion (Edinburgh Festival 2006 –The Scotsman Critics’ Choice), A Streetcar Named Desire and Into the Woods (Oxford Playhouse), and Frank McGuinness’ version of A Doll’s House (Tour). He is currently Assistant Director to Alan Strachan on The Letter (Wyndham’s) and to Laurence Boswell on Treats (Garrick). He is also Peter Hall’s Assistant Director on Little Nell (Theatre Royal Bath) and later this year will staff direct the international tour of the Chichester Festival Theatre production of Nicholas Nickleby. Tom is Artistic Director of Primavera and is currently directing Primavera’s Forgotten Classics series at the King’s Head. Primavera was founded in 2003 and focuses on producing revivals, particularly of plays that are unacknowledged and underperformed masterpieces. www.primaveraproductions.com
Talented young British soprano Sian Jones (Carl Rosa Opera principal, Musetta in La Boheme at Dartington Festival, soloist at St John's Smith's Square and Royal Festival Hall) is joined by tenor Walter van Dyk (Pacific Overtures at Leicester Haymarket, principal at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, National Theatre, Donmar Warehouse), Anthony Flaum (finalist in Radio 2 Voice of Musical Theatre Competition 2006, lead tenor in Lord of the Dance) and Andrew McDonald (recently seen in The Entertainer at the Old Vic, Don Carlos at the Gielgud Theatre, and as Pizarro in The Royal Hunt of the Sun at the National Theatre.
PreviousCelebrating British Music Theatre productions have included Florodora, Our Miss Gibbs, The Maid of the Mountains, and A “Gilbert and Sullivan" Double Bill. All the productions have completely sold out and won much critical acclaim. In 2003, the Finborough also presented The Women’s War – A Centenary Celebration, an evening of original suffragette drama. More details here
The Press on The Boatswain's Mate
“Get yourself along to the Finborough...Here is music to enjoy, to amuse, to admire, and as in the lovely ‘What if I were young again?’ move the heart...A really good story, adapted from W.W. Jacobs and near perfect comedy plotting and witty lines, spoken and sung...[Ethel Smyth] could not have been better served than by Sian Jones as the heroine Mrs Waters…An enchanting performance" Barry Grantham, Extra! Extra!
“This Boatswain’s Mate is plucky, fun, and it lasts less time than a single act of Wagner...Primavera believes, rightly, that Smyth and her opera matter...When characters spout songs, Smyth is always memorable, mixing her distinctive, truculent twists and turns with influences from folksong, English operetta and the 19th-century musical gods...Sian Jones, a soprano confident and ringing enough to be worthy of the feminist heroine of W. W. Jacobs’s jovial yarn...What if I Were Young Again, delivered by [Sian] Jones with all the wistful heart needed...As boatswain and soldier, Walter van Dyk and Anthony Flaum…pitch in with the broad comedy...The company boasts a fine pianist (Timothy End)” Geoff Brown, The Times