Sasha Regan’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance originally burst in to life on London’s tiny Union stage in 2009. Gaining awards and critical acclaim, it has since played to larger houses in the UK and recently even toured successfully in Australia. This current UK tour encompasses a selection of fairly large venues, but even without amplified sound and only a single piano to accompany, the all-male Pirates is undoubtedly a qualified success.
Probably the biggest surprise is the humour that the director milks from the script and score. Gilbert’s book was always a savagely witty satire, but all too often in traditional revivals the humour plays second fiddle to Sullivan’s glorious score. By stripping away all reverence to begin with, the book appears fresh and invigorated, which Regan complements with some creative staging, a few contemporary ad-libs and, of course, a chorus of men in frocks playing all the female roles.
Compromises are taken with the music, but Regan’s direction skirts around these moments with invention and an ensemble of versatile, talented vocalists, ensuring that clarity is maintained throughout the memorable score.
Alan Richardson is a playful Mabel and negotiates the challenging coloratura with skill, while Alex Weatherall as Ruth infuses his comic creation with as much pathos as visual humour. Neil Moor’s bare-chested Pirate King is all the better for paring down the bravado, while Miles Western as Major General Stanley is a riot of rolling eyes, peerless patter and subversive physical comedy.