These Pirates look set to steal audiences' hearts... and voices

Review by Paul Nelson

FEW people of the older generation could have ever believed that they would be sitting through an American version of The Pirates of Penzance so extravagant that neither the authors, Gilbert and Sullivan, nor the original producer, The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company would have recognised it.

This version was staged by Wilford Leach for the New York Shakespeare Festival as a 100th birthday celebration as it was in 1879 that Richard D'Oyly Carte decided to stage the show in New York ironically because of pirates.

At the time there were around eight pirated versions being played of HMS Pinafore. None were faithful to the original text or music, and none were paying royalties. Therefore, he and the authors set sail for New York and presented a sizzling production of Pirates which was an instantaneous success.

So was the 1979 production, galvanising audiences who had never dreamed that the rather polite and pious versions of the opera previously seen could be an explosion just like that of a modern Broadway musical.

The edition now playing at Wimbledon Theatre and touring is basically the same idea, with the exception that it has again been restaged, this time by director Ian Talbot with more than a nod to the very English style of knockabout comedy. It now pays its dues to the Crazy Gang and in particular to British pantomime.

I saw the original Joseph Papp production in New York and while this is very different it retains all its original energy and madness while adding a lot more of its own.

To help achieve this it has the inspired casting of two absolute pantomime stars in Gary Wilmot and Su Pollard as the Pirate King and Ruth. That they enjoy themselves is evident and it is totally infectious.

For my money, it goes way over the top in Act 2 when there has been introduced a panto style audience sing-along complete with song sheet, but to be fair this only made me squirm for a few minutes.

The rest of the time it is thrilling.

It has the most dashing Frederic with a splendid voice, dash and talent to match, and a very fetching Mabel whose voice complements her prettiness.

If you miss the policemen singing and dancing When the Foeman Bares His Steel you will kick yourself when you hear about it, it too is perfect and quite rightly has the rafters ringing.

In fact, there are so many moments in the show when the audience literally cheers the cast because they work so efficiently together as a whole.

It has a quite brilliant and workmanlike set and excellent lighting, and to round off the whole perfection of the effect of this production it has a sound design that makes you wonder why it is not thus everywhere.

The Pirates of Penzance is a definite hit and must be seen. I expect that remark would not come as a surprise to Gilbert and Sullivan.

The Pirates of Penzance by WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. The New York Shakespeare Festival's Production from the Open Air Theatre Regent's Park, London produced by Mark Goucher, Act Productions Ltd & Old Vic Productions plc. Musical Director Catherine Jayes, Choreographer Gillian Gregory, Designer Terry Parsons, Fight Director Terry King, Lighting Designer Jason Taylor, Sound design by Mark Thompson and Ben Harrison, Directed by Ian Talbot.
Gary Wilmot (Pirate King), Su Pollard (Ruth), David Alder (Major-General), Joshua Dallas (Frederic), Karen Evans (Mabel), Giles Taylor (Sergeant/Pirate), Mark Roper (Samuel/Policeman), Sara Hillier (Edith), Alison Crowther (Kate), Eileen Hunter (Isobel), Catrin Darnell (Nora), with Jamie Beamish, Steve Bradford, Rodger Dunklee, Howard Ellis, Dickon Gough, Andrew Hutchings, Ramin Karimloo (Pirates/Policemen), Sue O'Brien, Pierre Fabre (Sailors).
Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon. 020 8540 0362