REVIEW: The Pirates of Penzance (Wilton’s Music Hall) ★★★★★

Returning to London this spring after its Australian tour, Sasha Regan’s The Pirates of Penzance lays siege to Wilton’s Music Hall, bringing comedy, romance and unending silliness in equal measure. The all-male cast navigates the maritime melodies of Gilbert and Sullivan’s much-loved operetta – fast approaching its 140th anniversary – and takes us on a whirlwind adventure along the Cornish coast.

Having reached his 22nd birthday, Frederic celebrates with the infamous Pirates of Penzance to whom he has been indentured since childhood. Although the pirates have become like family to him, he is thrilled to finally be free from their service and makes plans to return to the mainland and begin an honest life. Once on terra firma, he spots a bevy of beautiful maidens and instantly falls in love with Mabel who, alone among her sisters, vows to help him. The pirates soon follow Frederic and ambush the party, seizing the other sisters with the intent of marrying them, but not before the girls’ father – the Major General – appears, throwing a spanner in the works.

This is an incredibly enjoyable production. The cast does a fantastic job of walking the line between not taking itself too seriously while honouring and respecting the show, with each of the female roles played by men. The set and costumes are suggested rather than fully realised, putting all the attention on the actors’ characterisations which are excellent. The continual interactions between the cast really solidify the relationships between the characters, particularly the sisters and the pirates, and the little ad libs are frequent but short and beautifully placed so as not to decelerate the plot as we hurtle towards our inevitable happy ending. Lizzie Gee’s clockwork choreography is wonderfully tight and rigid which also greatly enhances the quirky atmosphere of the show.

While each member of the company gets their moment in the spotlight, there are a few glistening performances that leave the audience truly mesmerised. Tom Senior as Frederic anchors the production brilliantly and injects each scene with bright energy. Another fabulous performance comes from Alan Richardson as Ruth, whose expertly nuanced facial expressions and excellent vocalisation summon wave upon wave of laughter. The shining star of the production arrives when Tom Bales steps on to the stage in the role of Mabel and we are treated to his extraordinary soprano. Throughout the rest of the performance, the audience leans back in sheer disbelief as Bales’ crystalline glissandos soar around the room, his demure poise complimenting the raucous energy of the rest of the cast. The highlight of the piece comes from the Act One finale, as the whole cast sings ‘Hail, Poetry’ and the auditorium is filled with a truly spinetingling mix of harmonies.

The enduring charm and endlessly hummable musical numbers of The Pirates of Penzance is upheld and stunningly performed by Sasha Regan’s all-male cast. A quintessentially British show with clever wordplay and tripping tunes, this is a roaring success. Catch it before it sets sail again!

Reviewed by Alex Foott
Photo: Scott Rylander

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