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Sasha Regan’s All Male PIRATES OF PENZANCE at Hackney Empire

Pirates of Penzance
A previous cast of The Pirates of Penzance. Photo Kay Young

Although this all male production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s best loved work has been knocking around for six years it still feels fresh, snappy, delightfully twittish, and very sexy.

Using minimal staging (a few wooden boxes, mostly white garb, and an inventive use of lighting), Regan tells the classic tale of poor, innocent Frederic (Samuel Nunn), indentured to a band of pirates simply because of a slight slip of the tongue. Luckily for him, these are rather good-hearted, sentimental pirates who, if you paint them any sob story, will not only leave you alone, but have a good weep with you. They’re particularly fond of the odd orphan.

The cast is essentially split into three groups. There are the pirates, led by the swishy-swashy (wishy washy) Pirate King. Then there’s the Major General’s brood of fan-waving, not so bashful daughters – all corsets and comical hooped skirts – who the pirates are desperate to marry. Last of all are the Pythonesque policemen led, of course, by that bloke whose lot is not a happy one (even if you don’t know this light opera, you’re sure to know at least three or four of the catchy tunes).

In fact, Pythonesque sums up Pirates, or would do if the chronology wasn’t all wrong. There’s no denying the influence G&S must have had on the revered comedians, and it’s somewhat surprising that jokes from 136 years ago carry so well and so clearly, and are still having ‘em rolling in the aisle at the Hackney Empire!

So why an all-male cast? Well, why not, is the simple answer. It works well vocally, and adds an extra dimension of titter to the piece, and although thankfully not very ‘draggy’, the cross-dressing gives you a punch to the upper arm, a pinch to the bottom, and a sly wink.

The vocal performances are pretty consistent throughout, with Alan Richardson’s Mabel hitting the (very) high notes with frightening ease, and Miles Western’s Major General confidently galloping – on a beribboned broom – through his list of achievements. The weak link is Samuel Nunn’s Federic. His words are sometimes difficult to make out and, as he has a key role in the exposition, this is quite frustrating.

With just a piano, a few moustaches on sticks, some strategically placed candles and torches, and some silly walks, this production, designed by Robyn Wilson Owen and choreographed by Lizzi Gee, lets the idiotic genius of Gilbert and Sullivan shine out unimpeded and here’s hoping this production continues to bring a new audience to the work of the Savoy geniuses for many more years.
4 stars

Review by Kat Pope

Originally seen at Southwark’s Union Theatre in 2009, Sasha Regan’s acclaimed all-male production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance will return to London one last time, playing at Hackney Empire next week from Wednesday 24 to Sunday 28 June.

A classic musical comedy of mistaken identity, The Pirates of Penzance follows young Frederic, a child apprenticed to a band of tender-hearted, orphaned pirates exploring the coastline in search of treasure and romance. It first opened in 1879 and was an immediate triumph for Gilbert and Sullivan, remaining to this day their most popular and successful collaboration. Now, Sasha Regan’s critically acclaimed all-male production, a fresh and exquisitely funny re-imagining of this much-loved classic, returns to set sail across the UK.

Sasha Regan’s ‘All Male PIrates of Penzance’ EPK

Wednesday 24 – Sunday 28 June 2015
Hackney Empire
291 Mare Street, London E8 1EJ
Performances: Wednesday-Saturday 7.30pm, Saturday 1.45pm, Sunday 5.00pm
Press Performance: Wednesday 24 June, 7.30pm
Tickets £10 – 27.50
Box Office 020 8985 2424 | www.hackneyempire.co.uk

Thursday 25th June 2015


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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