Anyone who has experienced their fair share of Gilbert and Sullivan will probably believe that there could be nothing so markedly special about a “re-working” of HMS Pinafore. What makes Herbert Appleman’s DAUNTLESS DICK DEADEYE just so very special is that, unlike previous attempts at renewing Pinafore‘s appeal, this version spins the entire work around its axis, presenting the audience with a new perspective from a formerly minor character. By emphasizing the role of Dick Deadeye and his critical watch over the proceedings aboard the HMS Pinafore, Appleman brings a completely modern perspective to this vintage operetta. Robert Hewison of London’s Sunday Times noted that “the inflation of [Deadeye’s character]…brings out Gilbert’s satire…beautifully guyed in Sullivan’s music” and allows the audience to “view Victorian values through the lens of postmodern irony.” Two-thirds of this version’s libretto are completely new, and yet blend so perfectly with Gilbert’s remaining words and Sullivan’s original music that the audience really does get the sense that they are diving into the authentic world created by these two masters. They embrace this approachable new character, thus receiving a fresh perspective on the events as they unfold.
The beauty of this show is that it delivers all the joyful and raucous sea-faring antics we expect from Gilbert and Sullivan, while still managing to keep the audience as engaged as if HMS Pinafore were a brand new experience. Bringing something genuinely new to such a well-established genre of musical theatre, while maintaining the qualities that draw viewers to G&S shows to begin with, is a tricky balancing act. A balancing act that Appleman succeeds with, according to London critics after DAUNTLESS DICK DEADEYE was produced at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Appleman’s show was joyfully received, and soon after it was nominated for an Olivier Award for Outstanding Musical Production. Impressing Londoners, who feel a sense of ownership and pride over Gilbert and Sullivan’s legacy, is an admirable feat indeed. In fact, critics praised Appleman’s work for bringing a truly inspired twist to a very familiar show, even perhaps shaking new life into it. Mark Shenton of Stage Online proclaimed that “thanks to a libretto that has been extensively revised…[this production] rescues a show that has become mired in tradition and [gives] it a fresh and refreshing lick of energy.” Praise such as this has been consistent among critics, who welcomed the “lively new version” (David Dillard, Daily Mail) with open arms.
DAUNTLESS DICK DEADEYE does more than merely switch up the point of view of a well-known story – in doing so, it clarifies the social context in which HMS Pinafore takes place, helping the inherent humor of the show land more successfully with modern audiences. Turning the character of Dick Deadeye into the lens through which the show is perceived creates “a bridge between the on-ship antics and a modern audience” (Roger Foss, What’s On Stage). Appleman’s adjustments and additions amplify the greatness of Gilbert and Sullivan’s original to the extent that even the most traditional G&S fans will appreciate the justice done here, while those who are less familiar with the base work will still get to enjoy everything about a Gilbert and Sullivan experience. A thoroughly entertaining, satirical musical adventure is still the heart and soul of what Fiona Mountford of the Evening Standard called “the jolliest show around;” Appleman has brilliantly brought into focus the apparently essential character of Dick Deadeye, creating a new, yet familiarly enjoyable show.