We caught up with Nigel Morley of FAOS (currently playing Sir Joseph Porter) in advance of their upcoming show USS Pinafore which runs from Tue 25 to Sat 29 January 2022.
How did FAOS Musical Theatre Group originate?
The initials FAOS stand for the Farnham Amateur Operatic Society. That was our group’s name shortly after it was founded nearly a century ago. More recently, we amended the name to include 'Musical Theatre Group' because, now that we rarely do operas, that reflects the kind of shows our audiences seem to want to see. Also, nowadays, ‘amateur’ is simply not a thought we want to place in our audience’s minds.
In amongst our programme of musicals, we stage a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta every four or five years. G&S shows remain extremely popular, and the quality of the writing has lost none of its sparkle over the past century or so. And, let’s face it, they are essentially musicals in the modern sense.
Tell us about the show: USS Pinafore, what can audiences expect?
The ship, in our retelling of the HMS Pinafore story, is a starship. The idea of setting Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in different periods is not new. HMS Pinafore has been located on many different vessels, including now the USS Enterprise from Star Trek. Gilbert’s plot remains intact in our version, complete with his satirical take on class and marriage.The expectation of a space voyage will begin from the moment the audience enters the foyer, and their first step to see the show will be taken by walking through our spaceport departure gate to board the USS Pinafore.
What’s your favourite part of the show?
I think the audience is going to love our set, which is nothing less than the bridge of the USS Enterprise. (I haven’t seen it assembled yet, but I know it’s going to transform the stage of the Great Hall.)
For me, the most enjoyable part is when the entire crew try to tiptoe past the (middle class) heroine’s sleeping father to sneak her ashore to secretly marry her (lower class) sweetheart. It is typical Gilbert: twenty-five lusty sailors incompetently trying to tread silently and sing quietly.
How do you go about casting such a big production?
We advertise open auditions for the principal roles, and the auditionees come both from within our own membership and from other groups, ranging from Haslemere to Farnborough, from Alton to Guildford. The members of the chorus also take an audition when they join FAOS Musical Theatre Group.
FAOS has a long tradition to maintain, and the shows in recent years have continued its high standard of both singing and production. Titanic, Sister Act, Spamalot, Fiddler on the Roof –all attracted packed houses and were very favourably received.
What’s your favourite number in this show?
My favourite is close to my heart as it’s one I perform. Gilbert & Sullivan pretty much invented the so-called patter song, where the amusing lyrics tumble thick and fast, challenging the singer to get the words out in the right order. I have the good fortune to be playing Sir Joseph Porter, and it is he who gets the patter song in this show.
Sir Joseph is First Lord of the Admiralty (Admiral of Starfleet in this production), and he has had no naval experience at all. It was no secret to audiences in 1878 that Gilbert had modelled Sir Joseph on WS Smith, the stationer, whose success as a newspaper seller led him to parliament, and then to a political appointment as First Lord of the Admiralty, despite having literally no relevant experience.
Tell us about the connection between Thursday’s show and Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice.
It began in 1928, when Dr Ealand of Castle Street formed a committee to stage a production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado. His goal was to raise funds for Trimmer’s Cottage Hospital, the forerunner of the Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice and, after deducting production costs, they were able to present a cheque for around £50.
Other charitable causes have benefitted down the years. More recently, FAOS has denoted its Thursday evening performances and its Christmas Carol singing as fundraisers for Phyllis Tuckwell.
What do you most love about musical theatre?
Almost everything. It’s very gratifying to join forces with 40 or 50 other people, who all have different on-stage and off-stage skills, to produce a piece of entertainment. As a form, the musical is a strange beast: all that singing uninhibitedly about your feelings seems, on the face of it, rather unnatural. It’s an attribute it shares with opera. But somehow, it just works. And I love it.