The Pirates of Penzance was my first venture into the world of comic opera and, being one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular collaborations, it seemed like the perfect place to start. I was surprised at first when faced with such over-acting, as it went against everything I’d previously known, but the cast delivered the pantomime-like feel of the show with confidence and enthusiasm, and I found myself laughing along throughout the night.
The show follows the story of Frederic (Albert McIntosh) who, having completed his 21st year, is being released from his apprenticeship to a band of tender-hearted pirates. O’Hara has a beautiful voice and impressive vocal technique, and carried the show with grace. He was a joy to watch. The pirates were led by the Pirate King (Ray Pottebaum), whose powerful and projecting voice opened the show with a strong start. This was a great choice of casting and Pottebaum really stepped up to the plate to deliver this domineering character. The chorus of pirates sang together enthusiastically and engaged with each other well on stage. The theatre really played to the production’s advantage and the acoustics gave a beautiful tone to their vocals, especially when multiple voices sang together. My only criticism is the messy S’s that ended several group lines, which could easily be remedied with some careful rehearsal. Ruth (Rebecca Williams), the only female aboard the pirate ship, gave a superb performance with her facial expressions, bright voice and engagement with the audience. I thought her acting was convincing and she played the comedic role well. Samuel (Sam Lipworth) also demonstrated great vocal control, complementing the Pirate King well throughout the show. It’s also definitely worth mentioning Will Tomsett’s stunningly powerful voice that stood out from the chorus. Overall, the pirates delivered a strong performance, and I found myself anticipating their next moments on stage.
Upon setting ashore, Frederic meets a group of beautiful young girls. There were some star performers amongst this group (Daria Kerschenbaum and Anna White) who captured my attention with their energetic portrayal of their characters. Some, disappointingly, did not bring the same commitment. I felt like there was so much potential with the great choreography and script, but some performances were just half-hearted. When some members of the cast were so enthusiastic, those who weren’t were painfully noticeable. The most disappointing was that some members didn’t seem to even know their choreography nor their words, which is the bare minimum of what an audience expects when they’re watching a show! That said, the moments that were well-rehearsed were executed well, and I liked the addition of Isabel (Sarah Davies) beatboxing, showing the breadth of talent in the cast.
Mabel (Jenny Coppinger), Frederic’s love interest of the show, was a breath of fresh air. Coppinger is clearly incredibly talented and demonstrated outstanding vocal technique, powerful delivery and some impossibly high notes. I was waiting with anticipation for Mabel’s father, Major-General Stanley (Thomas Redpath) and his much-parodied “Major-General’s Song”. I must say, Redpath did not disappoint and I was thoroughly impressed by his careful diction and confident delivery of the famous song. The Sergeant of Police (Josh Taylor) was also wonderful in his comedic portrayal of his character. His voice had a great tone and I laughed along with his scenes.
Unfortunately, I’m sorry to say that the use of props was poor. Parasols, swords and the lot were dropped on the floor, gravestones were kicked over. If the accidents had been embraced by the actors and they reacted as their characters would’ve, I’d be more forgiving. Mistakes happen and, if handled properly, can actually enhance the depth of the character. Instead, I was disappointed to see actors break character to pick them up or, worse, smile and pull a face at the situation. This unprofessionalism could be seen throughout the show, from talking in the wings to poorly supressed giggles during a sad scene. There were so many fantastic elements to this show and so many incredibly talented singers, but I left with a bitter taste due to the lack of care that other cast members seemed to give the show.