Home » London Theatre Reviews » Pirates of Penzance tonight at Wilton’s Music Hall | Review

Pirates of Penzance tonight at Wilton’s Music Hall | Review

The Pirates of Penzance at Wilton's Music Hall - photo credit Scott Rylander.
The Pirates of Penzance at Wilton’s Music Hall – photo credit Scott Rylander.

This probably isn’t, let’s be brutally honest, the best time to revive an all-male production of a show with female characters in it, especially when previous productions of The Pirates of Penzance, including those put on by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, had female actors playing female roles as long ago as 1879 – Ruth, for instance, was played by Alice Barnett (1846-1901) for the inaugural Broadway run.

Nonetheless, there is something rather amusing about the prim falsettos of the likes of Mabel (Tom Bales) and Ruth (Alan Richardson, who played Mabel the first time this production came to Wilton’s Music Hall in 2010), the two rival lovers of Frederic (Tom Senior), especially when they, together with the Major-General’s (David McKechnie) other daughters, altos Connie (Richard Russell Edwards) and Kate (Connor Hughes) and sopranos Edith (Sam Kipling) and Isabel (Dominic Harbison), do their second voices so well and so consistently throughout.

The distinct lack of coyness helps, too. A testament to the skills of Gilbert and Sullivan, there were laughs aplenty in a show that may have been softer in tone and volume than its larger-scale fellow productions. But the subtler approach works for the cast, for the venue and for the audience. Full use is made of the Wilton’s stage space, as well as the various entrances and, on occasion, the aisles in both the balcony and the stalls. The choreography (Lizzi Gee) is full of energy and vitality: when the Sergeant of Police (Duncan Sandilands) and the constables that serve under him launch into ‘When a felon’s not engaged in his employment’, the accompanying movements are as delightful as the lyrics themselves. The lyrical highlight is, as ever, ‘I am the very model of a modern Major-General’, delivered here with appropriate speed and precision.

The cast perform without microphones, which works well with the piano being the only musical instrument in use (played flawlessly by Richard Baker). It is a glorious thing, so to speak, to hear the 18-strong cast sing quite marvellously in the big ensemble numbers. The set is kept fairly straightforward, with cloud shapes denoting the outdoors. It’s the props that set one scene from another, with the handheld moustaches of the policemen and, early on, a simple but effective portrayal of being at sea were particularly notable highlights.

Ruth elicits sympathy at the end of the first half, despite earlier having been subjected to lines from Frederic such as “Oh, false one, you have deceived me!” and even earlier making the mistake of apprenticing Frederic incorrectly: “A sad mistake it was to make, and doom him to a vile lot / I bound him to a pirate – you – instead of to a pilot”. Much attention to detail has been paid in this production – a facial expression here, a gentle movement there – which pays off in increased audience enjoyment. This is not one for the purists (a fellow theatregoer felt it necessary to point out to me in the interval that the music would sound better if it were accompanied by an orchestra) but this inventive and playful interpretation of a classic comedy is vibrant, remarkably fresh, and a delight.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The award-winning and exquisitely funny new take on the much-loved classic The Pirates of Penzance makes a welcome return to these shores after a huge critical and popular hit in Australia, when it landed in Cate Blanchett’s Sydney Theatre after a national tour.

The tale of a child apprenticed to a band of tender-hearted, orphaned pirates was an immediate triumph for Gilbert and Sullivan and remains their most popular and successful work.

The Pirates of Penzance
Presented by Regan De Wynter Williams Productions
20th February to 16th March


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