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Pirates are a bland crew

Thursday, July 23, 2009
11:40 AM

The Pirates Of Penzance is the second all-male Gilbert & Sullivan production at the Union Theatre and follows on from the big success of The Mikado. Gloomy fairy-lights are draped overhead, wooden boxes sprout with dried grass. Two ladders and a mop sugge

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The Pirates Of Penzance is the second all-male Gilbert & Sullivan production at the Union Theatre and follows on from the big success of The Mikado.

Gloomy fairy-lights are draped overhead, wooden boxes sprout with dried grass. Two ladders and a mop suggest a nautical connection, along with squawking seagulls on the soundtrack.

MD Chris Mundy strikes up at the lone piano, and the seagulls pipe down in deference to Arthur Sullivan's sprightly music.

Russell Whitehead as Frederic, the youthful and unwilling member of a pirate gang, gives vent to his conflicting loyalties upon the ending of his unfortunate apprenticeship to this villainous gang of pirates.

Samuel J. Holmes is wonderful as Ruth, his loyal but dyslexic nursemaid who was sent out with the task of enrolling the young Fred as a pilot and was too ashamed to return home when she discovered her calamitous mistake.

This rather childish plotline allows G & S to explore the Victorian psyche and it's preoccupation with duty versus pleasure and the haphazard events which twist people's lives in cruel ways.

W.S. Gilberts witty lyrics should make today's songwriters blush, with his rich use of the language and clever duets (especially Frederick and his amour Mabel, the golden voiced Adam Ellis) which grip the attention and delight the spirit.

Alan Winner as the pirate king commands his crew of energetic, if rather dowdy, comrades in crime and impresses with his fine voice and charisma, but I feel some regional accents would improve this rather too bland bunch of ruffians.

However, romance threatens with the arrival of a bevy of delightful young ladies on a spree.

Their white Victorian dresses are perfect, but where are the wigs to finish off the illusion?

Perhaps the budget was exhausted at this point. The management certainly begs theatregoers to subscribe to a new piano via the programme, so every penny obviously counts.

The pirates descend on this happy throng and threaten to carry them off and marry them. Shock, horror.

Enter Major General Stanley (Fred Broom), the father of the girls, and he attempts to impress the interlopers with his army credentials, but Fred finds A Modern Major General a bit of a struggle and we are all glad when the song is finished and he can sit down for a rest.

Part two is definitely more accomplished. Mabel woos us with his amazing falsetto and Frederick, Ruth and the pirate king sing a wonderful three hander Away - Tonight The Traitor Dies as a prelude to an attack on the major's stately home.

The local constabulary are co-opted to repel this raid and capture the brigands, however the 'Boys In Blue' are actually clad in white shirts (No blue dye available?) and their famous lament A Policemen's Lot Is Not An 'Appy One is strangely muted.

Some awesome harmonies are employed to end the show and the revelation that the pirates are, in fact, dishonest ex-members of the peerage is a timely reminder that life under Gordon B. is not that different to life under Gladstone.

l THe Pirates of Penzance at the Union Theatre, 204 Union St. SE1 OLX Box office: 020 7261 9876 Runs until August 8. Running time 2 hours. Tickets £12-15.

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