Review: The Pirate of Penzance
Gilbert and Sullivan are as British as tea and crumpets and the white cliffs of Dover. The 14 “Savoy” operettas they wrote when Britain had a far flung empire might seem a bit irrelevant now. That is, except for the fact they are still hugely entertaining.
I despair that the modern musical is often a battle between classy voices and spectacular visuals. The song writing is so ho hum I’d fall asleep if the set didn’t turn inside out. But Gilbert’s words and Sullivan’s music can stand on their own and these merry pirates need room to rabble rouse so an almost empty stage works brilliantly. Believe me the fit young men in white petticoats offer enough set dressing.
Sasha Reagan’s all-male Pirates hits its stride very early on and the audience are quickly taken in by the absurd antics of a band of soft-hearted pirates who can’t make a living out of piracy: they refuse to attack orphans, being orphans themselves and every ship they overrun seems to be crewed entirely by orphans. It takes the poor things the whole show to realise they’re being duped.
As an ensemble the 18-strong cast are very tight. The chorus is as integral to the success of this production as the talented principals. This Pirates is delivered with incredible energy and is as visually inventive as it is as aurally charming. But as individuals it’s Alan Richardson as Mabel and Matthew Gent as Frederic who shine. They have great chemistry and they sing beautifully together. It’s really sweet watching their gentle romance blossom and when they finally kiss you want to let out a fangirl scream.
There is no orchestra, only yet another handsome man and a piano. Sydney Theatre can unfortunately work against un-miked singers and at times the cast struggled and lyrics were lost. Fortunately these moments tended to be carried by the physical wit of Lizzie Gee’s choreography.
It’s easy to regard Gilbert and Sullivan as well-crafted panto. But then this is the right time of year to see one. As STC co-artistic director Andrew Upton said on opening night: “The production is like a Christmas present from England”.
Pirates of Penzance, Sydney Theatre. Until 24 November. Bookings: 02 9250 1777