Review: Pirates of Penzance – Wilton’s Music Hall

Written for The Public Reviews

The Mozart’s of musical theatre, W.S. Gilbert and A.S. Sullivan’s operettas are full of intricate twiddles and candescent trills. Cocking a snoot at the Colonial values so imbedded in Victorian culture, their stories are often ludicrously fluffy fares, with more attention spent to detailed parody than plot. But for all their superficiality, the musical prowess is plain for all to hear and so it is in Sasha Regan’s tub thumping Pirates of Penzance, currently flying its flag over Wilton’s Music Hall.

Frederick is a young man whose slavish devotion to duty nearly scuppers his chances at love, tied as he is to the Pirates of Penzance until his 21st birthday.  As he tries to do the right thing by both his love, Mabel and his unfortunate associates tragedy is averted by the calling on of a monarch.

The book is a mixed bag of the ridiculous (a number about our hero’s leap year birthday making him not 21 as first thought, but 5), the infamous (‘I am the very model of a modern Major-General’) and romantically sublime.  This jumble of ditties is woven together with confident élan by Regan and her creative team.  Lizzi Gee’s crafted and amusing choreography infuses Wilton’s with a perceptible sense of swash-buckle and Chris Mundy’s musical direction teases exquisite solo performances from his leads whilst referentially handling the epic choral moments with their transcendent religious overtones.

In a strapping cast (it’s hard not to feel a flutter when these beautiful youths storm the stage) Alan Richardson’s Mabel breaks glasses and hearts with his falsetto notes, Russell Whitehead makes an affable and believable hero and Samuel J Holmes turns in a sweetly pantomime dame performance as Ruth his nurse and admirer.   In the midst of the silliness, Richardson and Whitehead’s duets are truly moving.

 Whilst nothing really happens in this situation comedy, it doesn’t actually matter. In the midst of convoluted plot points the momentum of this virile cast and the inventive humorous staging propels the audience through Gilbert and Sullivan’s frothy quips and quibbles and delicious melodies.  A wittily bombastic night out.

Runs until 8th May