Pirates Of Penzance
at Whitgift Film Theatre
live streamed from the
English National Opera
May 19th 2015
Review by Josie-Anne Gray
I have to admit that I’ve been giddy with excitement looking forward to seeing this production over the past few weeks. I first saw Pirates when I was 19. It was at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle and it gave me a longstanding love of this silly, clever opera. I was hoping not to be disappointed tonight and I was not.
The Whitgift live streams are a wonderful opportunity for those of us in places just that bit too far from London and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden or The Coliseum to see these great productions. Ticket prices are a factor as well so the much reduced cost of £15 is a bargain. The Whitgift Film Theatre provides a comfortable and intimate venue and the streams give the theatre an opportunity to share great art and hopefully make some money for investment in the future.
Mike Leigh’s set for the production is spectacular. It is huge, modern and bright painted in sea blues and pea greens with a great, jutting red pirate ship cutting through at what looks like quite a precarious angle for the lively opening section that contains one of the show’s great songs I Am A Pirate King. Joshua Bloom gives this pirate king verve and humour. The glorious rich boom of his voice elevates the song to a truly joyous anthem, setting the vocal standard high.
The singers with the greatest control and clarity in the opening are Bloom and Robert Murray as easily addled Frederic the apprentice. Rebecca de Pont Davies as Ruth is also spectacular in the opening with crystalline diction. I found her performance poignant and touching. As an older woman, cast out and deemed unlovable she is the shadow in a show of light and frivolity and Davies brought that very much to the fore in her performance.
I wanted the Major General (Andrew Shore) to deliver his tricky show-stopper with panache but alas it seemed to outface him and he stumbled and was just behind the music throughout rendering this notoriously difficult patter song rather shambolic. He was much better in the second half where he seemed more comfortable in his role.
Pirates has the silliest of plots and is famous for its humour, it paradoxes and its all round rollicking sense of fun. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the delicious With Catlike Tread which the company performed with gusto. If ever there was a song to lift the spirits then surely this is it.
The second half truly belonged to the Sergeant of Police (Jonathon Lemalu) whose face was obscured by the most ludicrous comedy beard and whose paunch was so pronounced he looked in danger of toppling over but his delivery was faultless and joyously absurd. He gave his role all the burlesque delight it deserves and outshone everyone except the Pirate King, which is as it should be. In that long ago production in Newcastle, I remember being reduced to crying with laughter at the Sergeant of Police and having aching sides. The effect was not quite the same but his performance was wonderfully enjoyable.
I tripped out of the theatre, not quite with catlike tread but certainly well entertained. If opera is not your thing or not something with which you are comfortable and familiar, then dipping your toe in the water with Gilbert and Sullivan is probably an excellent place to start. If you feel bold and fancy something a little darker and sexier then the Whitgift Film Theatre is streaming ENO’S new production of Carmen on Wednesday 1st July. If the trailer is anything to go by, you may need to lie down in a darkened room with a flannel on your head afterwards!
This review appears in The Peoples Issue 34 Web Edition