Edinburgh Fringe 2014
A 21st Century musical take on one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s finest musical – with a few twists and turns thrown in.
Frederick, apprenticed to a band of ruthless pirates until his 21st birthday, finds himself betrothed to his nursemaid Ruth. Having never laid eyes upon another woman, he is startled, nay, amazed and soon besotted with the bevy of beauties that join him in a deserted cove just as he turns 21. But first the pirates and then an annoying old bufftie in a ridiculous military uniform arrive to thwart his plans. And just who’s side are all these rather effete policemen on?
So runs Pirates of Men’s Pants, Bradford-on-Avon Courage Performers lively jazz makeover of that Gilbert and Sullivan classic. Using styles that included farce, melodrama, commedia dell’arte, absurdism, pantomime and lots of daring do, we are treated to a high-energy but always affectionate send up on the original (which was, of course, itself a send up of the 19th century establishment) with cleverly crafted choreography and enthusiastic singing and acting.
Tom Babbage as Frederick was the stand out performer. With an expressive face (he reminded me of the late Kenny Everitt) and possessed of a fine singing voice, he also exhibited superb comic timing and movement. The character of Ruth (Felicity Courage), Frederick’s nursemaid, was nicely composed and the Pirate King (Luke Rees Oliviere) sang beautifully as well as providing a believable degree of faux daring-do as he tried to improve the courage of his rather reluctant pirate crew. Joe Gunn as the Major-General (for this was the old bufftie in a silly uniform) stole his big scene, as he should do with the best patter song in the G&S repertoire. This followed the tradition of a straight first verse and two more adapted for the specific location and time of the production – cue a dig at the Tory / Lib Dem coalition and politicians in general.
A jolly set featuring a mock up of HMS Pomp in full bunting was pleasing on the eye, although the scene change mid-way through proved rather clunky. One or two awkward pauses also suggested that sound man and cast weren’t quite in synch in terms of cueing up the music and there was an absence of the usual rousing G&S finale. Come on guys, the Major-General could surely have had a crack at leading the rest of you in “Sighing Softly to the River” – some wonderful opportunities there for rousing and an appropriately melodramatic close out. What we had was, sadly, rather limp.
But they packed a lot into a seventy-five minute show and the ensemble just about worked, remaining true to the original story whilst providing a 21st century musical interpretation. Worth a look.