Pirates of Penzance is one of Gilbert and Sullivans best loved musicals, although G&S is a rather acquired taste and like marmite you either love it or hate it. I enjoyed Sasha Regans all male version version of HMS Pinafore last year at the Union Theatre and having missed this show there in 2012, I was keen to go and check it out while it was docked at London’s Richmond Theatre as part of its UK tour.
The story tells the tale of Frederic, a Pirate apprentice, who upon reaching his 21st birthday is due to be set free into the world. Ruth, the pirates maid, is the only woman he has ever seen and knows that if he goes on to meet other women, he will realise she is not as beautiful as she has lead him to believe. It transpires that Frederic was born on a leap year and so in fact is not technically 21 and has to commit the majority of the remainder of his life to being a pirate. When a group of women descend upon the pirates living space, Frederic soon falls in love with Mabel and realises Ruth is not in fact as pretty as she said. Frederic and Mabel then struggle to have their relationship blessed so they can be together.
The set is basic, yet nicely done, with well lit clouds in the background and just some boxes on the stage. Surprisingly, the show is performed with just piano accompaniment and no microphones giving a rather amateur school production feel to it. Saying that, it does work well enough with the old-school material.
Alex Weatherhill does a great job as pirate maid Ruth. His facial expressions are hilarious when trying to convince Frederic that she is actually beautiful and has a great look of disgust when she is found out. Alan Richardson was good as love interest Mabel. His operatic singing voice did the job and made him more than passable as a woman. Michael Burgen, the only original cast member, had one of the strongest (non-operatic) voices and did well as Samuel. The rest of the ensemble worked well together, parading around as women.
While the audience of the Richmond Theatre lacked in numbers, they certainly made up for it in age, making me wonder if shows like this are becoming increasingly less popular with young theatre-goers who have so many newer productions to choose from. Pirates of Penzance certainly isn’t modern and perhaps it is necessary to bring the script up to date in order for it to appeal to the mass market.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Kay Young
Pirates of Penzance is on tour around the UK. Click here for tour dates and to book tickets