Pirates of Penzance – King’s theatre

Libretto by W. S. Gilbert

Music by Arthur Sullivan

Artistic Direction by Alan Borthwick

Musical Direction by David Lyle

Rating: 3 out of 5.

There’ll be no parlay amongst these pirates, as The Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society take to the high seas to land their production of The Pirates of Penzance safely into the King’s Theatre. But with tongue-twisters and tricky winds to navigate, one of the best-loved Savoy operas is no easy task for the company – thankfully, EDGAS are keen seadogs who know these waters well.

Indentured to the mast for twenty-one years, all due to the slip of a tongue over the pronunciation of ‘Pir-ate’ rather than ‘Pi-lot’ (easy mistake) Frederic is left in the care of the Pirate King, duty-bound to serve him until his 21st birthday. Trouble is, Frederic was born on a leap-day…

The remainder of the tale concerns the un-welcome matrimony of a band of roguish pirates the many, many…many daughters of the Major-General, thus the entire affair is ludicrous, farcical, and downright uplifting in select moments.

Despite the misconceptions of Gilbert & Sullivan’s intentions and humour, The Pirates of Penzance steadies itself on lampooning those who are servants to their ‘duty’, missing the marks of common sense altogether. The humour basis itself not in the realist, as many fail to recognise, but in the eccentric lengths of which Gilbert & Sullivan take their piece.

There is the concern however that the chorus falls into the same trap of the Nursemaid, with annunciation being the major drawback of the evening. Musically, this is without question one of Gilbert’s more intensive operatic constructions, with a multitude of tongue twisters and heavy pops to carry the rhythm of an opera with a deal of additional spoken elements. It comes together in the second act, with the introduction of the Policeman and Daughters securing a more flowing and less stagnant delivery of the chorus.

The sea fares better for our principal singers Sebastian Davidson, Nathan Auerbach and Andrew Crawford as the gangly pirate tribe and head of the police. Davidson particularly is a natural man of the waves, with a pitched composure, but softness in his refusal to harm orphans. But there is no greater fear to a pirate than a one-time nursemaid turned pirate. Ruth, who maintains her desires and care for Frederic, is a pivotal plot driver, but thankfully Mairi Coyle is more than capable of maintaining the burden with solid vocals and performance.

And where it comes to the Major-General, clarity and diction are paramount. And who better to stand up to the mark and hoist his britches than Colin Povey – who evokes a sense of control, rising to the notorious tongue-twists, Model of a Very Modern Major General with gusto. And in a demonstration to refute those who hastily and panic the song, Poverty has few concerns with slowing the pacing to ensure each syllable rings across the King’s.

Decked out, the King’s flitters of the glitter of spectacle, the scenic dressing a quick world-builder, utilised by director Alan Borthwick with plenty of small flourishes and sight gags to keep audiences invested. But above the visuals – it is the EDGAS Orchestra who do the utmost in preserving the integrity of Gilbert & Sullivan, a triumph and meld well with the vocals of Keegan Auerbach and General Stanley’s principal daughters played by the ravishing and keenly voiced Emma Barker, Annabel Hamid, and Angie Fowler – with Lorna Murray playing Mabel on this occasion.

Amidst the coloratura soprano notes and flair, the production strives for, EDGAS maintains a kitschy and accessible production that makes up for the falters in vocals through the chorus. Strap on your boots, fasten a bottle of rum to your hip and be ready to set sail for a jolly ol’ roger of a time.

The Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society Present The Pirates of Penzance runs until March 26th – tickets for which can be obtained here.

Image Credit – Scott Barron


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