The Pirates of Penzance

Aug 23 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩   Cheerfully direct

Spotlites @ The Merchants’ Hall (Venue 278) Mon 18 – Mon 25 August 2014

Bright and breezy, newly-formed Edinburgh musical theatre company Cat Like Tread trip giddily through The Pirates of Penzance at Spotlites @ The Merchants’ Hall.


Pirates cast out on the town. Photo: Cat-Like Tread

Pirates cast out on the town. Photo: Cat-Like Tread

This is a cheerful, late-night, G&S romp, which rattles along at considerable pace in order to fit its tale of love and duty into the 90 minute time-slot.

Sarah Kim and Farlane Whitty direct the story of the dreaded pirates and their apprentice, Frederic, with an honest and straightforward simplicity. Without getting overly clever about it they take the element of caricature already evident in Gilbert’s libretto and magnify it.

Here are a bevy of not-quite-vicious pirates and the ill-fated Frederick, indentured to them by mistake, disporting on the shore by their pirate hideout. On the bare stage, cubes painted on one side show off basic the accoutrements of a pirate ship, with the pirates all wearing stripy T-shirts with big sewn-on patches.

All single, orphans and fated to the belief that duty comes before all else, they are led by Chris Cotter’s gleeful Pirate King and are shocked to discover that Frederick is about to leave their company having reached his 21st birthday.

Thomas Ware is strongly noble as Frederic, with Susanne Horsburgh giving a saucy and suitably inappropriate performance as Ruth, his one-time nursemaid who made the original mistake – and now believes (erroneously) that she has wormed her middle-aged way into his boyish heart.

clever, light-hearted and satisfying

There are the Major General’s many daughters, running ahead of their beloved dad, scrambling down to that same shoreline. Bold, uniform dresses with plain colours keep it all simple as the daughters quickly turn around the cubes to create a sandy shore – and take selfies before deciding to dip their toes in the sea.

With assistant musical director Matt Ferguson keeping the tempo pacey from the piano, this never lets up. A tuneful showing from both choruses could sometimes use a little more power in order to overcome the dulling effect of the huge dome above the stage in the Merchant’s Hall, but there is little to detract from Sullivan’s music.

Particularly not when Julia Fuchs arrives on stage as Mabel, the youngest of the daughters who takes pity on young Frederic with her big aria, Poor wand’ring one. It should be a turning poing in any production of Pirates, and Fuchs’ coloratura, range and power is easily up to the mark.

The other big solo test of any production of Pirates is the Major General’s great patter song, I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General. Stepping out front, Tom Paton ensures that it flies by, with every tongue-twisting word clear as it should be.

Recent productions of The Pirates of Penzance in Edinburgh have seen Scottish Opera bring the full might of their orchestra, chorus and soloists to the stage. Such a scale is able to show up the musicality of the score and highlight its grand opera pastiches. There is no such attempt from Cat-like Tread – nor should there be. Instead the company rely on story and character for their entertainment.

This, then, is all about the intimacy of the staging – allowing the choruses to create their own characters to play with and develop as the soloists go about their business. And on these terms the company have done their duty to Gilbert, Sullivan and their audience by creating a clever, light-hearted and satisfying fringe night of it.

Running time 1 hour 30 mins (no interval)
Spotlites @ The Merchants’ Hall, 22 Hanover Street, EH2 2EP (Venue 278)
Mon 18 – Mon 25 August 2014
Daily, 20.55
Tickets from:


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.