I suppose February 28 is the perfect date to see The Pirates of Penzance in a non-leap-year since the plot rather hangs on the relative infrequency of Feb 29. Concerns that having an all-male cast might trip the presentation of the operetta far too far into the realm of camp and drag theatre, are unfounded. The reason for this is that the show – and it really is a show – is delivered with evident affection and respect for the original and is also hugely energetic, lively, funny and occasionally surprising.
There are relatively few additions / re-writes to Gilbert’s text, and it is notable that as the cast deliver spoken lines with such great timing, point and wit they elicited many roars of laughter. Gilbert wrote good jokes! The same is true of the sung text. Here the advantages of having singing-actors could not be better displayed. Great singing, notably from David McKechnie’s suave and engaging Major General Stanley and Duncan Sandilands’s sonorous Sergeant of Police – they have the best and most-famous numbers of the male protagonists. James Thackeray oozes stage presence as a Pirate-King with much theatrical bravado and Tom Senior is a suitably naïve and bewildered Frederic.
It’s remarkable how the countertenors / falsettists manage to sustain their high-lying roles so well. Alan Richardson is a feisty and manipulative Ruth with some considerable power in the voice and yet a richness to the tone that works really well. The Major-General’s brood of daughters are an amusing bunch as well. Vocally all are remarkably at ease and projected well though Tom Bales’s Mabel, tasked with the hardest and most virtuosic of the roles, perhaps lacks the body of sound of the others. Great musical-theatre singing from the Ensemble, and then in the ‘Hail Poetry’ section a real surprise, this chorale-type episode delivered as a stand-and-sing operatic moment with a surety that is absolutely thrilling.
The production abounds with slick choreography, some memorable images, and some clever costuming and props. The singing is accompanied by piano, and it is a shame that Richard Baker’s deft playing is sometimes drowned by the voices – but if you like your G&S delivered with vivacity, inventiveness and charm then this is a fun evening.
- Performances until March 16