“The Director, John Savournin deserves a festoon of praise for his understanding of The Pirates of Penzance and his ability not to deviate from the well-trod path but to make it so good, the audience is watching it afresh for the first time.”
Gilbert & Sullivan Festival
Location: Buxton Opera House
Production: Pirates of Penzance
The Concept: A whimsical opera about a pirate apprentice who gives up his dastardly ways to live a noble life and marry a girl. This all becomes possible when he meets dearest Mabel on the beach but then becomes unbearably impossible when Frederic must return to being a pirate apprentice because of a loop hole that binds him to being a pirate all his life.
The Successes: I avidly watched the 1982 ‘Pirate Movie’ starring Christy McNichol and Christopher Atkins until it wore out on my VHS (Yep. That’s how old I am). In all its cheesy pageantry, it was actually a pretty playful rendition of The Pirates of Penzance. Luckily, I have outgrown The Pirate Movie but not the Pirates of Penzance. Seeing many stage productions since, I know that if a production doesn’t put full effort in and is directed in the right tone, the opera can come across as all cheese and no wit.
Fortunately, tonight, I have just seen one of the best renditions of Pirates of Penzance I have had the pleasure to experience. All elements came together in this production to create a professional spectacle that made every moment as special as the last.
The National Gilbert and Sullivan Company have understood the importance of slight camp, moments of rich comedy gold, unique character portrayals and playfulness required in perfect proportions for a cocktail that played every moment perfectly.
Vocals by the Pirate King (Brendan Collins), Mabel (Leigh Rhianon Coggins) and Frederic (Adrian Dwyer) were lush people, lush! Brendan Collins wooed the audience with his mastery of his deep voice to much delight and Leigh Rhianon Coggins had me break out in goosebumps more than once tackling the likes of ‘Poor Wandering One’ to perfect symmetry.
Comedy was on point and the Major General, played by Richard Gauntlett, was THE BEST MAJOR GENERAL I HAVE EVER SEEN (yes, I just shouted that at you….but with love….and emphasis). It is true though; Gauntlett’s sense of comedic timing was impeccable.
As for the back up performers (ie: all the Major General’s daughters, the Pirates and the terrified Coppers) had a challenge themselves in ensuring robust characters portrayals that didn’t get lost in the crowd but didn’t try to outshine the leads. I want you to know I watched everyone of you and can quite honestly say you sang your hearts out, put every effort in and made characters I couldn’t keep my eyes off of. You brought as much to the production as any of the leads and when you sang in chorus directly at the audience with pirates on one side and daughters on the other, it was in complete harmony and simply delicious to hear.
Costumes and sets were perfectly on point. Backdrop of an open book that changed scenes was colourful without being overdone. The Pirate King’s Puss In Boots footwear and faulty sword were perfect embellishments.
The Setbacks: Two minor things to mention – Frederic’s trousers were too short after the intermission with his black suit and the Pirate King could have pushed a little further towards his peacock persona. Truly, that is it. So minor in fact, that these almost don’t feel worth mentioning.
Final Thoughts: Talent was top drawer and no song was ever a ‘dud’. The Director, John Savournin deserves a festoon of praise for his understanding of The Pirates of Penzance and his ability not to deviate from the well-trod path but to make it so good, the audience is watching it afresh for the first time. My only true disappointment is that the audience did not have a variety of ages in it. Youngins’ – get your faces out of a screen and come watch something actually entertaining for once! However, I saw it and felt privileged to do so. What a bloody good production! Well done National Gilbert and Sullivan Company! Well done indeed!
Would the Ladies Take On this production of Pirates of Penzance again?
When is it playing again? How soon can I get tickets?