Thursday, October 11, 2012


Presented by:  The Sydney Theatre Company and Regan De Wynter Productions
Canberra Theatre until 13th October

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Canberra audiences were the first to see this truly remarkable production of one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular operettas when it opened last night in the Canberra, prior to a national tour which will culminate in Sydney.

This production is remarkable not only because it is presented by an all-male cast, (not so remarkable when you remember that Schools and colleges have been doing this for years), but because, by simply ignoring the fact that it is an all-male cast, how well it manages to capture the real essence of the operetta in such a delightfully charming and satisfying presentation.

"Pirates of Penzance" relates the story of the pirate apprentice, Frederick, who as a yong boy was sent to work with the pirates of Penzance after his nurse, Ruth, has mistaken his father's wishes for him to be a pilots apprentice until his 21st Birthday.

Unfortunately for Frederick, is birthday is on February 29th and he only has one irthday every four years. How this fact affects Frederick, his true love, Mabel, the Major-General and of course, the pirates of Penzance forms the basis of one of Gilbert and Sullivan's most delightful creations.
The setting for this production is simple, but adequate. The accompaniment is a single piano placed on the floor in front of the stage. No microphones are used, but the singing is superb, the diction is crystal clear and every word, even in the ensemble numbers, can be heard, so that the audience is quickly drawn into story.

Sasha Regan’s direction is brilliant. She has obviously encouraged her cast to avoid the temptation to camp up their roles, ignores the fact that the cast is all male, and gives the impression that the direction would be exactly the same if half the cast were female.  Without resorting to wigs or make-up, the men of the ensemble change from handsome testosterone-charged pirates to the major-general’s pretty daughters (well!  Most of them), simply by adding skirts, and affecting the gestures you would have expected had they been female.  It’s a deceptively simple device which works brilliantly.

As women, the cast also harmonise in beautifully modulated high baritone voices which emulates the sound of a female chorus remarkably successfully. As pirates their sound is rich and manly. The excellent singing throughout is one of the many pleasures of this production.
Mathew Gent (Frederic) and Alan Richardson (Mabel)

Wearing a short back and sides haircut, and dressed in a skirt and unpadded corselet, Alan Richardson’s interpretation of Mabel is superb theatre. He sings in a remarkably pretty high soprano, managing the bravura coloratura of “Poor Wandering One” effortlessly. His love scenes with the handsome Frederic (Mathew Gent) are surprisingly believable and affecting.

Joseph Houston and Ensemble 

 As the other female lead character, Ruth, Joseph Houston also creates a very believable and funny characterisation. 

Nic Gibney brings plenty of dash and swagger to his Pirate King, Adam Vaughn is delightfully gruff as the Sargeant of Police, and Neil Moors provides an excellent account of “The Very Model of a Modern Major-General”. All do full justice to Lizzi Gee’s energetic, resourceful and inventive choreography, while Michael England’s superb piano accompaniment reminds of just what a wonderful score this is.
Mathew Gent (Frederic) and dancers

This is a production which should not be missed by any Gilbert and Sullivan devotee, or indeed any theatre-goer interested in experiencing a joyful theatrical experience.

Nic Gibney as The Pirate King and ensemble


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