The Pirates of Penzance

  • Date:
    Wednesday, April 25, 2001
    Review by:
    Darren Dalglish

    Producer Raymond Gubbay has again brought the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company to the Savoy Theatre following recent successes with “H.M.S Pinafore” and “The Mikado”, both of which were nominated for Olivier Awards.

    I’m ashamed to say that this is actually the first time I have ever seen a production of “ The Pirates of Penzance” so I cannot compare this production with any other, including the one at the Queens in 1998 and at the Open Air, Regent’s Park last year. What I can say is that this is a jolly fun show that features cheeky pirates, dopey policemen and pretty women. Unfortunately I found some of the cast lacking in strong voices to belt out the numbers and sometimes their timing was a little off. Nevertheless, the show is musically great and the story and script witty enough to offset the weak links, although I would have preferred a little more camp!!

    I may not have seen a production of this opera before, but of course the music is very familiar to me with songs including, ‘I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General’, Poor Wandering One’, ‘I am a Pirate King’ and ‘A Policeman’s Lot is Not a Happy One’.

    The story, for those that don’t know, concerns Frederic who as a child was to be indentured to be trained as a Pilot until he was 21, but Ruth his nursery maid, misunderstood what his father had asked and instead indentured him to Pirates. Therefore, because of honour, Frederic would be a pirate until his 21st Birthday. On his 21st Birthday Frederick leaves the pirates and declares his intention to bring his compatriots to justice. He then comes across a ‘bevy of beauties’ on the beach, all of which are the daughters of Major-General Stanley. He falls in love with Mabel and warns the women to flea the beach at Penzance as the pirates will be returning. Alas, they are too late and the Pirates decide to force the women to marry them. Fortunately Major-General Stanley is able to save his daughters by telling the Pirates that he is an orphan. The pirates though ‘rough men, who live a rough life’, are not ‘completely without sensitivity’, and so let the women go free. The twist comes when Frederick discovers he was born in a leap year and therefore won’t be 21 until he is 84!!! Frederick being a slave to duty returns to his life as a pirate and is forced by his ‘honour’ to betray the General-Major.

    Tim Rogers plays a fine ‘Frederic’, cute, dashing with boyish charm. Unfortunately, he does not have a strong voice that results in some of the songs being underpowered. Royce Mills was a disappointment because much of his timing was out, but there is a great performance from Patti Allison as the friumperlous ‘Ruth’.

    This production has received mixed notices from the popular press.... TOM SUTCLIFFE for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Musically, Pirates is a strong delightful piece, though the satire on heredity is wearing out." He goes on to say "The Gilbertian jokes and comfy rhyming couplets get laughs, even when crassly delivered." RODNEY MILNE for THE TIMES says, "There is truly something for everyone here." He goes on to say, "The primary appeal of the piece, though, has to be its cornucopia of fresh, toe-tapping tunes." RUPERT CHRISTIANSEN for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "ONLY the curmudgeonly could fail to draw innocent pleasure from the D'Oyly Carte's cheerful revival of The Pirates of Penzance." ANDREW CLEMENTS for THE GUARDIAN was not too impressed by the production saying , "Everything is sanitised. The pirates have standard-issue pirate costumes (shouldn't they be just a bit grubby?); the Major-General's daughters wear chaste white dresses; the action is equally bland....Musically, too, it could be a lot better.."

    Generally I found the show to be a little messy, but still enjoyable. However, I’m sure that those who have seen many productions of this opera will find this one average.


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