The Pirates of Penzance at the London Coliseum
The English National Opera’s relationship with Gilbert and Sullivan continues to thrive. After The Mikado, which has been a staple production of the company for over 25 years, The Pirates of Penzance is another hit that never fails to satisfy theatre-goers. This year’s revival, originally directed by Mike Leigh and now reprised by Sarah Tipple, is no exception. First performed in 1880, the comic opera relies heavily on oxymorons and paradoxes.
Since birth, young Frederic finds himself at the centre of sticky situations. On the coast of Cornwall, a band of pirates is celebrating his 21st birthday, which also marks the last day of his apprenticeship with the soft-hearted sea rovers. It soon transpires that Frederic’s involvement with them was the result of a mix-up: Frederic’s father had instructed the boy’s nurse maid to have him apprenticed as a pilot, but the lady, who is hard of hearing, mistook the word for “pirate”.
The inexperienced lad resolves to leave the criminal life behind, but as he takes his first independent steps, a series of hilarious predicaments befall him. He is introduced to the fairer sex (he had only known his nurse maid and considered marrying her for lack of choice), he falls in love with Mabel, the no-nonsense daughter of Major-General Stanley (a most knowledgeable man who knows very little about military affairs), and he is finally faced with an absurdly imposed duty that binds him to the pirates for much, much longer than anticipated.
The set consists of a striking blue backdrop with a large circular hole in its midst through which characters emerge. Other boldly coloured screens of different geometrical shapes slide in and out to form layers, creating abstract formations. The set cannot be said to create an atmosphere in any way and is a little at odds with the Victorian costumes. It does, however, give the show a modern edge and helps it shed, to an extent, the classical quality that may weigh it down and make it too safe and tame.
Both vocally and in terms of stage presence, the cast does not disappoint, and the comic timing is spot on. There are a couple of clumsy moments during the choreographies but they will no doubt be smoothed out as the the show settles and solidifies. The irresistibly uplifting score and genuinely amusing text provide much substance in themselves, but the elegant touch of the ENO group is felt throughout, and it does full justice to this timeless piece.
Photo: Tom Bowles
The Pirates of Penzance is at the London Coliseum from 9th February until 25th March 2017. Book your tickets here.