I grew up with Gilbert and Sullivan albums often playing in the house. Although the pair wrote many English operettas (including The Yeoman of the Guard and Trial by Jury), the three big-hitters are The Mikado, HMS Pinafore, and The Pirates of Penzance.
We have seen many gender-blind shows in recent years – notably an all-female Shakespeare trilogy of Henry V, Julius Caesar and The Tempest at the Donmar, and the play with music Emilia at the Globe. All-male productions are rarer but the Globe’s Twelfth Night remains memorable for Mark Rylance’s spirited Olivia.
Could this most traditional of musical forms withstand a male soprano warbling “Oh, wandering one”? And how will the music stand up with these visual and sonic distractions? You needn’t worry, the score is sensational and vibrantly delivered by a fabulous cast.
David McKechnie is a superb ‘modern major general’ (although he is denied his double-speed encore), and Tom Senior has all the heart and soul he can muster in his voice as Frederick, bonded in piracy since he was a child because of his nurse Ruth’s (Leon Craig) poor hearing.
Alan Richardson, as Mabel, leads the group of sisters with pathos and sweetness, and has a fine female voice. And, in the other leading roles, Oliver Savile brings a sense of fun and charm to his Pirate King, while Marc Akinfolarin laments a “policeman’s lot” with a chorus of over-mustached coppers.
The story is simple enough, with the good guys, the bad guys, a touch of romance, a gaggle of pretty girls (their opening number, with ankles akimbo, caught paddling, is fun), and the men playing them (Sam Kipling, Dominic Harbison, Lee Greenaway, and Richard Russell Edwards) convince in their twittering as blushing maidens.
Frederick wishes to leave the pirates on his 21st birthday, having only ever seen one woman’s face, that of Ruth, who in her plain middle age has persuaded him she is beautiful. The nymphettes in the water show him otherwise and he starts a sweet and convincing courtship with Mabel.
Complicated by both a calendar technicality, and Mabel’s protective dad (the major general), the path to true love is hardly smooth, while the pirates would much rather have their honest destructive trade than return to their prior lives.
Sullivan’s music is beautifully rendered under Richard Baker’s musical direction, and director Sasha Regan weaves just a little bit of magic with an uncomplicated set which works to place the drama and songs front and centre.
Watching this digital recording I might have wished for the camera to get up close a bit more often, but it is a small quibble when a show is such a smash. I’m glad that I have finally got the chance to see it and recommend you do, too.
You can catch the stream of The Pirates of Penzance at https://www.stream.theatre/season/26 until Mon 5 April.
Image credit: Danny Kaan
LouReviews received complimentary access to review The Pirates of Penzance.