The Pirates of Penzance

Mar 24 2022 | By More

★★★★☆   Beyond duty

King’s Theatre: Tue 22 – Sat 26 March 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

The Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society bring a production of The Pirates of Penzance to the King’s which goes beyond the call of duty, being packed with high points – and no low ones to speak of.

One of the best-loved of the Savoy Operas, the show is packed with moments and songs that are so well known that they have practically become cliches – both in and outwith G&S circles. EdGAS rise about such a problem, however, by the simple trick of being very good and what they do.

Sebastion Davidson and Keegan Siebken. Pic Scott Barron

The plot of The Pirates of Penzance relies almost completely on the mocking of those who are slaves to duty. The laughs are not at the doing of the right thing in itself, though, but the taking of it to ludicrous excess.

This is the one about Frederic, indentured to a band of pirates – not pilots – by a nursemaid who misheard her instructions. But having signed up he is duty bound to stay, however much he may loathe their ways, until his 21st birthday. Unfortunately, being born on February 29, it turns out he only has a birthday every 4 years…

Beyond this, the whole thing is a glorious guddle of interlocking stupidities and silliness. The pirates only pick fair fights – and free any orphans they capture. After his birthday party, Frederic meets a flock of young ladies on the seashore. All two dozen of them daughters to Major-General Stanley who has recently bought a nearby castle.

plosive-popping lyrics

Musically, this has some of Sullivan’s best tunes with Gilbert’s tongue-twisting and plosive-popping lyrics adding a level of rhythm better understood in terms of rap than light opera. Musical Director David Lyle keeps the band tight, driving the plot along at pace – only letting up when things get a bit tender, or a lyric needs emphasis.

Mairi Coyle Pic Scott Barron

Director Alan Borthwick, meanwhile, adds a wealth of neat visual flourishes – starting with the balloons at Frederic’s 21st birthday party – that make it all feel fresh. Or at least reassuringly twee when the crinoline bedecked chorus start hand jiving when Fred gets his top off.

There is a real sense of unity from those chorus members. Apparently ten were in Covid self-isolation on opening night. But the only time you might have noticed was when a second flag-waving pirate appeared, late and not altogether in time, to balance their fellow on the other side of the stage. Presumably the original flag waver was absent.

a joy to listen to

Borthwick’s blocking adds an almost painterly visual element to the first half, thanks to Major General’s daughters, with their huge dresses lapping around the stage like waves on the rocky shore.

Musically, the choruses are up to the mark – even if maybe a shade more enunciation would help at times. They are particularly good with the double chorus effect in Act Two – between the daughters and the policemen – which is both a joy to listen to but also pointed as the policemen realise that their duty might involved death at the pirate’s hands.

Sebastion Davidson. Pic Scott Barron

There are plenty of great moments from the principal singers. Sebastion Davidson not only rocks a great beard as the Pirate King, but has the voice and demeanour to match, with Andrew Crawford solid in support as First Mate, Samuel.

Mairi Coyle clearly enjoys herself as Ruth, the erstwhile nursemaid and now “piratical maid of all work”, who still has a glad eye for Frederic. The character is over-burdened with plot development, but Coyle shoulders it with vocal ease and, importantly, great clarity.

Clarity is all when it comes to the Major-General – and Colin Povey has it in buckets. His delivery of the tongue twisting patter song, Model of a Very Modern Major General, is a delight to hear and he is not afraid to slow it right down when needed.

gorgeous coloratura lines

The greatest delight, however, comes in the central love pairing between Keegan Siebken’s decidedly hunky Frederic and Lorna Murray’s beautifully voiced Mabel, the only one of the daughters with the gumption to put her hand up when Frederic comes calling.

Murray, who alternates the role with Megan Bowen, delivers Mabel’s gorgeous coloratura lines with flair and astonishing vocal agility. Fortunately, she gets to repeat all the best bits. And by golly, like the rest of this show, they are worth hearing.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000.
Tuesday 22 – Saturday 26 March 2022
Evenings 7.30pm, Matinee Sat 2.30pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

The Stanley Sisters. Pic: Scott Barron


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Comments (1)

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  1. Tom pickering says:

    It is nice to get my first mention in a review

    I was the absent flag waving pirate at home with Covid