The Pirates of Penzance, Celebrate Voice at Salisbury Guildhall

FRED Broom’s production of The Pirates of Penzance, for Salisbury’s Celebrate Voice festival at the Guildhall, could justifiably be called the very model of a modern G and S feast.

You need all sorts of things to make this happen. Of course, talented and versatile singers and actors, a stunning accompanist, inspired ideas and colourful costumes are essential. Once the rigid instructions for movement ran out of copyright, directors have been able to inject their own ideas, and most of them add to the inherent wit, pathos and satire of the originals.

This Salisbury production, performed in the Banqueting Hall on a cleverly tiered set, started with MD Phillip Thomas, piratically attired, playing the overture as the Major General (Robert Gildon) takes a dip in the sea off the Devon coast. The comedy set the mood for the show, with the superb cast bringing out every moment of humour in Gilbert’s lyrics, and throwing Liz Truss in for good measure.

Sullivan’s memorable music is strangely comforting in these turbulent times, and as the familiar but ridiculous story unfolded, a camaraderie of Britishness spread through the audience, even though thunder roared and tempests blew outside in the market square.

Did we know that the oldest Stanley sister Edith, awkward and repressed as a young Joyce Grenfell, was seriously jealous of her sibling Mabel? After watching Celebrate Voice founder, singer and actress Lynsey Docherty and Catriona Hewitson play out their contest, you’ll be looking for it in future.

The magnificent Anne-Marie Owens is the perfect Ruth, that maid of all work whose deaf ears sentenced the dutiful prig Frederick (David Horton) to a life of piracy.  Nick Dwyer is the pirate king of your dreams, and Matthew Siveter’s unusually flexible bass allows him a new look at the Sergeant of Police who won’t go to his death, glory or not.

I remember my first Pirates, in the long-distant past when G and S societies could depend on massive choruses, and everyone in the audience STOOD for Hail, Poetry.  It is no less beautiful with a small company, underlining Sullivan’s extraordinary ability to provide tunes in a vast number of styles, turning what might have been no more than pastiche into moving, funny and unforgettable arias, always perfectly balanced with the witty wordsmithery of his musical partner.

Long live Gilbert and Sullivan, long live Celebrate Voice (it’s the tenth anniversary next year) and huge congratulations to the whole company and crew who made this such an enjoyable and life-affirming show.


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