‘The Pirates of Penzance’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by July 4, 2013

‘The Pirates of Penzance – or the Slave to Duty’ is a wonderful fun-filled operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan. It is being presented by the Phoenix Theatre Inc and Laughing Horse Productions Inc. It is showing at the Phoenix Theatre, Memorial Hall, Corner Rockingham Road and Carrington Street, Hamilton Hill.

This 130 minute spectacular starts at 8.00 pm on Friday and Saturday evenings until the 20th July; there are also matinees on Sunday the 7th and the 14th July at 2.00 pm.

The conductor (Krispin Maesalu) taps his baton and the live, twelve-piece orchestra start the 8 minute overture. Because the orchestra is situated in front of the stage, it is a big relief to find that musical director, Paul Olsen’s selection is a sensible balance and that by using an electronic keyboard as a piano the volume is totally controlled.

This is the first time that this group of musicians have played together and the team work is superb, with no prima donna who wants to be in a volume competition.

The instruments were flute (Amy Thomas, Jeni Stevens), clarinet (Talitha Dunn, Svenja von Dietze), and the unusual bass clarinet (Alex Morris); the brass section was cornet (Emelia Blake, Michelle Ezzy), horn (Bronwyn Matthews), and trombone (Emma Mondy, Steven Port); for strings there was cello (Belinda Flindell) and contrabass – same as double bass (Greg Critchley) and on keyboard Josh Haines, with percussion / drums by Liam Richer.
Even in the front row, the level of volume of this equilibrium of sound, allowed the singers to be heard perfectly.

 

It is 1877 in the south west of England. A policeman (Emmalee Bialas) is out looking for criminals. Swaggering along the quayside are a bunch of pirates, led by the King of the Pirates (Pear Carr) and his head thug, Samuel (Sam Barnett). With them is young Frederic (Mark Thompson) who was sold to the gang as a child, for a ‘slave of duty’ – apprenticeship – until his 21st birthday. Today is his birthday and discharge is in sight.

Having been on a ship all of his life, the only female that Frederic has seen is buxom Ruth (Sheryl Gale) who is a ripe 47yrs old. The pirates are desperate to have her married off, and so Ruth tells Fredric that she is an average, typical women. Just as Frederic is convinced, and about to accept her, he spots a dozen beautiful young girls going for a paddle in the river.

The older of these sisters, Edith (Catherine Motteram), Kate (Danni Close) and Isabel (Crystal Suche) sing as the sisters disrobe. With their ankles totally bare, panic strikes as Fredric makes himself known. As Frederic is deciding which of the three he loves most, another young sister, with an angelic soprano voice, can be heard approaching, it is Mabel (Shania Eliassen). Then the pirates swoop on the scene and all of the sisters are claimed by the vagabonds.

When Mabel takes Frederic home to meet her father, the Major-General (Paul Treasure), he is horrified to find that all of his daughters are promised to pirates, though thankfully not the one in high heels and tights (Christopher Doney). The Major calls for the help of the Sergeant of Police (Russell Baxter) and his powerful team of constables. A fight breaks out, but by the clever sword skills of the one-armed pirate (Gareth Calvert) and the young pirate slaves (Olivia Goud, Jayden Timms) the police are slowly disarmed.

Frederic discovers that he is not 21 after all, will he ever get married?

 

The outstanding chorus and pirate crew were played perfectly by Jaime Bialas, Phillipa Bialas, Celeste Eden, Dean Fuller, Brenda Gabersek-Goud, Valerie Geeves, James Hynson, Mikaela Innes, Renae Jones, Elinor King, Andre May-Dessmann, Sylvia Mellor, John Ramsell, Kat Robertson, Jarrod Thomas, Kelly van Geest and Cally Zanik.

When you go to see an operetta there are certain expectations. Live music is preferable. A good balance between music and singing. Leads with powerful voices of perfect pitch. A good, full-bodied chorus with plenty of action. Colourful costumes and most of all, plenty of light-hearted fun. This musical ticked all of the boxes. The chorus was one of the best that I have ever seen.

At all times the performers sang their hearts out. The choreography, under the direction of Jeni Stevens and her very capable assistant Mikaela Innes, was innovative and exciting. They didn’t settle for the easy method of having the entire chorus moving in unison, each character seemed to have a personality of their own and yet still managed to work as a team. There is a major dance sequence in the second Act that starts with a complex policeman routine, blending into a mad, highly energetic pirate dance. I am sure that Pear won’t mind me saying that he isn’t the lightest of dancers, but his heel-clicking performance that ended with a Cossack dance, was jaw-droppingly good – and crippling encores were demanded. Magical!

Paul Treasure also had a major challenge with his tongue-twisting ‘I’m a Major General’ which on the third encore was still perfectly enunciated even though the tempo had tripled.

The costumes were stunning, with Jodie and Elaine Innes producing some wonderful gowns, then there were a dozen police uniforms, a couple of dozen night dresses and the band of pirates to dress. Each outfit had all of the trimmings.

The sound design was by musical director, Paul Olsen, whilst the dreaded headsets worked perfectly smoothly when operated by Alex Coutts-Smith. Pauline Lawrence’s lighting showed her natural gift of matching gel colours to the musical chromatics and tempo. The follow-spot was operated by Jane Sherwood Cumberlidge. The simple but effective set construction was by Wayne Gale, Dan Madgewick and Joanne Rumble, with props and backstage by Kathryn Ramsell and Hannah Goud.

It is obvious that director Adam Salathiel has put a huge amount of thought into this wonderful, lively production. I can recommend it highly to all families with children 7 years and above.

NOT a high faluting opera, but an easy to understand, fun night for ALL of the family.