Gilbert and Sullivan aren’t exactly regulars to my theatre visits, in fact, neither are operettas but I couldn’t pass off the chance to see the highly talked about with rave reviews that is Pirates of Penzance. Not satisfied with just a revival of this operetta, Sasha Regan (founder of The Union Theatre) directs this with a dramatic twist – the cast are all male, and what a joy it is!
Now playing at the beautiful (and when I say beautiful I mean beautiful) Wilstons Music Hall tucked away is this hidden gem of a venue there comes a performance that if you don’t leave beaming with joy there might just be something wrong with you.
Everything about this production is perfectly tuned and toned that it is hard not to give anything but praise. It is a joy to watch, both in the twisting and slightly irrational storyline but also in the singing and sheer comedy value. There is no denying the fact that it takes a little while to adjust to seeing men dressed as women – but what Regan has done is to not camp the production to an extreme. The ensemble as women being played by men is perfectly formed, their movements and gestures represent that of women, but clearly they are not. A brilliant paradox is formed.
With simple stage design by Robyn Wilson, a collection of crates that make an extra level within the production, and a few potted plants – it is the music and songs that transport us to the pirates that live famously in Penzance. Their leader, the Pirate King is Ricky Rojas, and he portrays a hearty scallywag of a king giving clear orders and cut throat responses to those they dislike. Among the pirates is the only woman in their company, the old and slightly rugged looking Ruth who is played by Samuel J Holmes – a remarkable portrayal who leaves a stitch in your side from laughter. Holmes certainly can command the stage and even playing a woman has a remarkable singing voice.
Then there is Fredric, the pirate who will soon no longer be a pirate upon turning 21 (but little does he know that his birthday falls on a leap year and thus is only really 5 years old in birthdays!). Russel Whitehead is Fredric and is brilliant at it – hitting every note, and every line with emotion and conviction and even made a few audience members swoon in the process. He is every bit the part of the loveable protagonist.
Sadly whilst all the cast are strong and excellent, Mabel – the young lady to fall in love with Fredric played by Alan Richardson just doesn’t quite do it for us. He has a beautiful voice and his ability to hit the high notes in the songs is quite outstanding but he lacks power to fill the auditorium of the Wilstons Music Hall and often his lines are lost. Having said that, what can you expect when you’re hitting notes so high and you’re not exactly a woman to do so! All things considered, Richardson’s Mable is fantastic.
During the course of the performance, you can’t help but to fall for everything that is offered for you. The choreography by Lizzi Gee is brilliant – it is witty, full of life and above everything it works with the space and with the cast. She hasn’t tried to push the movement too far, but equally doesn’t let it sit and do nothing.
With musical direction by Chris Mundy and an ensemble that works together with such slick and excitement Pirates of the Penzance has to be a highlight of 2010 for me.
If you do anything this month, grab yourself a ticket to see this, you won’t be disappointed!
The Pirates of Penzance is running at Wilstons Music Hall until the 16th May. Booking via the website.