We’ve all grown up humming Gilbert and Sullivan tunes, and seen (or been dragged to) many versions of their comic operas.
This performance of The Pirates of Penzance, the tenth full-scale production by local company Jorvik Gilbert and Sullivan, is both boisterously familiar and joyfully unique.
Joseph Rowntree Theatre
September 22, 2016
The show is classic G&S: clever social commentary with some very witty lines. A young man, Freddie, is set to take his leave from his pirate master after completing his apprenticeship, which had been based on error.
They are terrible at piracy, Freddie informs the Pirate King: “You’re too soft-hearted!” (shrugs and smiles of acknowledgement) “You refuse to attack orphans!” (crew murmurs in agreement) “Word got around! The last three ships you’ve attacked have been manned entirely by orphans!”
The entire cast rollick through the show, singing and emoting with all their hearts. Mabel, played by Clare Rachel Greener, a founding member of Jorvik GSC, is a delight, with her clear, strong soprano filling the theatre.
Director Alex Schofield is a hilarious, scene-stealing Sergeant of the Police, and he has imparted this gleeful sense of humour throughout the production. Pirate King Mark Simmonds is a swaggering (though tender-hearted) villain, and the patter singing Major-General Stanley, played by Paul Blenkiron, handles his tongue-twisting entrance with aplomb.
Along with Cat-Like Tread (better known as parody Hail! Hail! The Gang’s All Here!) and other familiar songs, you’ll be humming I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General all the way home.
Refreshingly, the leading man / heartthrob is played by Stuart Roberts, a likeable, pleasant fellow with a beard, unlike tall blond Greek gods I’ve seen in past (American) productions. Regular folks! One could empathise with a Freddie like this.
Sometimes I can feel my American roots showing. The witty ‘newspaper’ broadsheet that is passed out before the show, complete with instructions on how to make your own pirate hat could only work in England: if you’ve ever sat in an upscale restaurant at Christmastime and witnessed even the most middle-class, posh gentleman don a shiny golden paper crown, you’ll know what I mean. (I never was able to explain cracker crowns to my dad.)
Likewise, I’ve seen G&S productions in various New York City-region theatres over the years, and indeed, one show was complete with a ship’s bow, rigging, a mast that could be climbed and so forth: yet I enjoyed this show more.
To see a G&S operetta performed in the country of Gilbert and Sullivan is satisfying, plus of course, this company is top-notch. And of course, the satire of an unqualified man in a position of authority, a classic Gilbert trope, is as timely as ever.
This production of Pirates was the final offering from founding Jorvik GSC Musical Director Matthew Collins. We laughed, enjoyed some fantastic acting and singing, and left humming.