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Brighton Fringe 2014

The Pirates of Penzance – Rebooted

City Theatre Company (UK)

Genre: Musical Theatre

Venue: The Barn Theatre


Low Down

The Pirates of Penzance is one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s best known comic operas. This much loved classic has now had the score revamped to make a show which will please all the family. It even pleased a three year old boy sitting in front of me.


Fun and participation is guaranteed from the moment you arrive and are greeted by pirates selling you a programme for a doubloon that also folds up into a pirate hat, making you immediately feel part of the show. The audience then stay in tune with the humour of this creative reworking of this classic with it’s characteristic, unbelievably simplistic plot, coloured by funny songs, melodrama and music hall turns. This is an imaginative production in which the audience participation of Victorian music hall is encouraged throughout.
The limited acting space, decked out with flags, and nautical regalia, is cleverly used to accommodate a cast of 18 actors and the ‘in the round’ nature of the performance space is used with great effect by the choreographer , Melanie Perry, with some hilarious and memorable dance routines. The funny funky dance moves of the Pirate King, Nurse Kate and the wonderful ‘moonwalking’ of the Victorian policeman deserve special mention.
The director, Andy Stoner, needs congratulating on his imaginative juxtaposition of modern day and Victorian culture. This is rebooting at it’s best, reminding us that some comic actions don’t date – is it Benny Hill or Keystone Cops in a clever jerky silent movies section? Melodrama and pantomime techniques abound. The excellent band, under the musical direction of Ellen Campbell, accentuate every comic turn with apt, often recognisable music and sound effects. The costume design by John Azzopardi, who also played Sam, cleverly echoes the modern twist – Victorian corsets look quite modern Goth and the contrasting pirate costumes make for the interest and individuality of each of the pirates. This is a fine cast, with stand out performances.
Mark Yexley, a George Formby ukulele playing Policeman ( he also plays the trumpet) is a natural comedien. Ruth Long puts in a good comic performance as the older, disappointed woman chasing the young man and uses her strong, clear voice to great effect. Dave Villers hams it up beautifully as the Major General and successfully carries off the famous songs. As the young lovers Frederick and Mabel, Karl Jenner and Melody Warrnett act well together although their singing voices seemed more suitable to the modern medly of songs they sang in the second half than to the more traditional Gilbert and Sullivan songs.
The Major General’s daughters and the pirates, led by Paul Fish as the Pirate King sang their songs enthusiastically and danced with gusto . The fun that the company is having on stage is easily transferred to the audience. An enjoyable evening is guaranteed.
One has to admire the work and dedication of the actors and production crew to mount a production like this. In these days of financial restraint when professional theatres can not afford large casts one has to thank amateur companies such as City Theatre Company (UK) for keeping alive the tradition of Gilbert and Sullivan.