Review: Pirates of Penzance

Laura Pugh 7 February 2014

Put simply, Pirates of Penzance is tremendously good fun. This Gilbert and Sullivan classic delivers a highly entertaining evening, filled with fantastically camp, tender-hearted pirates, giddy Victorian ladies, and dim-witted, weak-kneed policemen. The whole show is unashamedly silly; there’s some great singing, and plenty of laughs.

The parts of the leading lovers were confidently sung by Edward Green as Frederic, the unwilling pirate apprentice, and Gabrielle Haigh as Mabel, the quick-thinking daughter of the Major General. James White shone in the role of the Pirate King. As the foolish but charming leader of a crew who, most courteously, never attacks those weaker than himself, White was utterly winning. He enacted a particularly flirtatious, hilariously camp interpretation of the role. In fact, this reviewer has never seen one actor wink so many times in a single play. His boundless energy made for some great pirate scenes.

Individual characterisation of pirates and ladies within the ensemble gave additional entertainment. Standing out in chorus were Mabel’s soloist sisters and Oliver Clark, whose pirate solos were delightfully smooth. It is no mean feat to direct a cast of thirty one members who are frequently all on stage together, yet their movement – from dance sequences to over-the-top sword fighting, parasol placement to flamboyant posturing – was consistently dynamic and well rehearsed. The detail that went into costuming also deserves note. Dress was stereotypical but sophisticated: a nice touch in a production that treads a fine line between exaggerated ridiculousness and not slipping into appearing childish.

In soft candlelight, "Oh dry the glist'ning tear" is beautifully sung by the Major General (Tristan Harkcom) and his daughters, but the pirate comedy that replaces them was lacking in vigour. As Ruth and the Pirate King attempt to persuade their apprentice to rejoin their crew, their duets are too quiet and the number has a tired feel to it. The policemen, however, steal the second half of the show. Their comic cowardice had the entire audience laughing, and their vocals were great.

Opera doesn’t always appeal to the widest audiences. Yet this production, which mocks its own genre with incredible wit, is neither pretentious nor tedious. The overacting and terrible rhymes are all part of the fun. I recommend it to anyone looking for a light hearted, entertaining evening out, and up for a good bit of swashbuckling humour.