The Pirates of Penzance

April 7, 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆     Steady

Pleasance Theatre: Wed 6 – Sat 9 April 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

The Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group sets its heart on duty and its eye on the main prize with Edinburgh’s second production of The Pirates of Penzance in as many weeks.

Director Seamus Coyle keeps it simple in a production which, given the option, tends to serve Sullivan’s music and Gilbert’s libretto rather than trying to bring anything outlandishly modern to the evening.

Sebastian Schneeberger (kneeling) with Kirsty Nolan and the pirate band. Pic: Maud Kovadloff

It is a small but remarkably well-tuned company, with Sebastian Schneeberger in strong form as young Frederick, indentured to Pirates at young age, who has just reached 21 and is able to throw off their influence (or so he thinks).

This is much to the chagrin of Theo Chevis’s struttingly masculine but bumbling Pirate King and, particularly, Kirsty Nolan’s Ruth, the maid of all work who mistakenly put young Fred in this position and has stayed faithfully with him – and who has her own amorous designs on him for a future mate.

In a light opera where so much of the comedy is carried in the words, it is heartening when a company can get their tongues around them and ensure that they are clear. Nolan is particularly memorable as Ruth – who is responsible for more than her fair share of plot development.

bravura syllable spitting

Of course the big moment of bravura syllable spitting comes from the Major General, whose many daughters (although just the seven in this production) are picnicking on the rocky shore where Frederick and Ruth happen to land as they leave the pirates’ circle.

Thaddeus Buttrey is superb in the role, milking it for all that it is worth with the notorious Major General Song, in which he lists all the information, “vegetable, animal, and mineral” which this very model of a modern major general should possess.

Arielle Firestone, Chelsea Laurik and Hannah Brown. Pic: Maud Kovadloff

But it also needs a company with some pretty decent singers to do justice to the various daughters of the major general. Singers, fortunately, of a calibre which Eusog possess.

In the minor daughter roles of uptight Edith, Isabel and Kate who give Frederick the brush-off, Chelsea Laurik leads the way with a particularly strong Edith and with delightful support from Hannah Brown as Isabel with Arielle Firestone as Kate.

The big role, however, is Mabel, who is undaunted by Frederick’s apparent rudeness and declares her willingness to be his bride with one of Sullivan’s most memorable pieces of coloratura work.

full of added charms

Nina Harman hits all her notes perfectly, finding the very highest ones without apparent straining. It is a bright performance, full of added charms, and one which a more expansive production might have found room to extend. It is, you feel, just the beginning of her capabilities.

Musically this is a production which hits all its vocal targets. The groupings might be small, but with just a smidgen of on-stage amplification, thanks to subtle work from sound designer Mallory Smith, the lovely double chorus effects all come across clearly.

Theo Chevism Jamie Gilson-Barnett, Millie Franchi, Sebastian Schneeberger, Nina Harman, Chelsea Laurik, Hannah Brown and Thaddeus Buttrey. Pic: Maud Kovadloff

There are maybe some concerns about enunciation from the daughters when in chorus, but their choral duet with the police, whom Frederick is to lead in the apprehension of the pirate band, is a musical delight.

Patrick Hall makes great use of his height as the Sergeant of the police, with the best physical comedy moments of the whole show. His defeat at the hands of the Pirate King – a blow down if ever there was one – is beautifully timed and executed.

Hall has a nice set of pipes on him as well, which he demonstrates as he leads the police chorus’s lament about their lot not being a happy one.

straightforward

In keeping with the straightforward production, Ruth Buckley’s set is about as simple as they come, without being an actual bare stage, and Eleanor Ellis’s costumes are suitable without being extraordinary. Jacob Henney’s lighting adds a level of drama, however, without being too intrusive.

All told, a production which plays well within the strengths of its cast and creatives. There is surely a lot more to be investigated in The Pirates of Penzance – the pirates all turning out to be Lords is certainly worth making something of – but that is for another day.

For now, this is one in which to sit back and bask in the tunes and comedy of a great Savoy Opera, delightfully delivered.

Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes (including one interval)
The Pleasance Theatre, 60 Pleasance Rose Stree, EH8 9TJ.
Wed 6 – Fri 8 April 2022
Evenings 7pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

ENDS

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