GILBERT and Sullivan, doyens of Victorian society, created the ever-popular The Pirates of Penzance in 1879, all full of swashbuckling seafaring naughty sons of nobles, a bevy of daughters of a Major General and incompetent bobbies.
Since then it has been a staple of the English-speaking stage, with professional and amateur productions around the world. A large cast, funny story and chances for all voices to have a go has made it a must for companies of all sizes and talents.
So when Sasha Regan decided to mount an-all male version, eyebrows were raised, and presumably graves rumbled in Stanmore and St Paul’s Cathedral.
In recent years there has been a huge increase in young male singers training as counter-tenors, so why not cast men as the Stanley girls?
What’s so astonishing about the touring production of the show at the Theatre Royal in Bath until Saturday 2nd May, is that (almost) all the company play and sing and dance both male and female roles … and splendiferously.
The soprano role of Mabel, known as the most demanding of all the G&S heroines, is performed by the diminutive Alan Richardson, with such power and brio that there really is beauty in the bellow of the blast.
Samuel Nunn, as the duty-bound hero Frederick, has just the right earnest intensity, and Alex Weatherhill is a charmingly winsome Ruth, his middle-aged but still devoted nurse turned piratical-maid of all work.
Lizzi Gee’s choreography has the daughterly chorus leaping, toddling and almost doing a Swan Lake as they prepare for a private paddle.
With the energetic David Griffiths at the piano, the company uses the entire theatre, so that audience members get a chance to witness the transformation of policemen with selfie-stick mustachios to delicate daughters, as well as hearing at close quarters how baritones transmute to counter-tenors.
Every person on stage has his own character to play, whether it’s a daughter, a policeman or a pirate, so the acting is as important as the singing, and this terrific ensemble cast is determined to make the most of every minute. It brings this sometimes-crusty old show into the 21st century, full of fun with occasional high-camp jokes and those wonderful tunes.
Whether you are a lifelong G and S fan or a newcomer to the Savoy Operas, see this production if you possibly can.
Footnote: If you can’t get to Bath this week, the tour returns to the south west at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre from 2nd to 6th June.
Photographs by Kay Young