Little Red relief 2.0

The IsoLate Late Show – Episode 2

(Little Red Company)

March 29

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Fresh from last week’s first IsoLate Late Show, little red company were back on Friday night with episode two, albeit in a more striped-back format, thanks to updated social distancing and gathering requirements, because as experience continues to show, a lot can change in a week. Staying in may be the new black, but particularly for those who live alone, it can be an unusually lonely occurrence, especially if it is in contrast to typical time out theatring, which makes the experience of this new concept cabaret show all the more rewarding.

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It’s like an unplugged version of a performance proper, coming to us from another lounge room, but while the number of performers may be lessened, the entertainment is still as present as ever as Naomi Price and Luke Kennedy are joined by superstar guitarist Jason McGregor to share some creatives vs corona love. While the 90-minute show includes cabaret classics, there is also a covid19 twist to some of its numbers, including ‘Penny Lane’ appearing as dedication to the essential workers of our new-normal society. And reappropriated Katie Perry lyrics see Price bopping us through ‘Quarantine Dream’.

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While last week’s performers drop in via video, including members of Queensland Chamber Orchestra, Camerata, in accompaniment to Luke Kennedy’s epic ‘Into the Unknown’, this week’s show is really about Price and Kennedy. The pair is in fine vocal form, showcased particularly in gleeful (#seewhatIdidthere) duet + dog share of Journey’s cheesy but convincing ‘Don’t Stop Believing’. They lift the classic rock number’s sing-along melody to become a spiritual anthem for people not to give up, which is obviously an important message during this current crazy time of coronavirus.

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Another highlight comes courtesy of the peak harmony of Kennedy’s crisp vocals in The Doobie Brothers’ ‘Give Me the Beat Boys’, which easily carries at-home audience members away in drift-away sing-a-long. And Price’s ‘Valerie’, done properly, the only way to do it, Amy Winehouse style, is enlivened with jazzy riffs and electrifying high-tempo guitar rock-out courtesy of McGreggor. Light and shade comes from McGreggor’s emotion-filled accompaniment to ‘Songbird’, to take us back to Price’s recent, but now a lifetime ago encore run of “Christmas Actually”. Throwback to Price’s other 2019 encore show at La Boite Theatre, “Lady Beatle”, comes courtesy of a final, vibrant Beatles mix, cresendoing into ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ to let the evening go.

As its finale surmises, “The IsoLate Late Show” is guaranteed to raise the smile because, let’s face it, isolating is more fun with friends. Not only this, but it serves as an important ongoing reminder, also, about how arts matter and how members of this crippled industry need our support. With that in mind, you can continue to enjoy the full show, knowing that donations are still welcome at www.theisolatelateshow.com.

little red relief

The IsoLate Late Show (Little Red Company)

March 20

For the performing arts sector, the enormity of the coronavirus is unparalleled. Yet in response to the devastation, members of the creative community who should be on stage, found a way to do exactly that last Friday night, #kindasorta, in a star-studded cabaret show. It took just 48 hours of these unprecedented and unpredictable times for the little red company to put together a banger of an online show live from a living room. With an audience of over 45 000 viewers, the very first episode of “The IsoLate Late Show” raised over $58,000 for the Actors and Entertainers Benevolent Fund… an effort very deserving of all-around air-fives.

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Leading the charge to keep the community together, our quick-witted emcee of sorts Naomi Price bursts out with ‘Rolling in the Deep’. Adele is clearly in Price’s comfort zone, as those who have seen her “Rumour Has It” show know, with the English singer-songwriter’s work featuring throughout, even within memorable mashup with the Spice Girls. There is hint, also to Price’s “Lady Beatle” cabaret show, which enjoyed a smash return season at La Boite Theatre last year, when members of Queensland Chamber Orchestra, Camerata, slow things down with a tribute to ‘all the lonely people’ in The Fab Four’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ultimately proving that the sweetest songs do not always need vocal accompaniment.

The show offers lots of opportunities to sing, dance (not too close) and bop along to feel good songs like ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ and ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ from ‘old mate’ Luke Kennedy. His ‘The Best’ is far from the footy anthem many may know; layered with lingering light touches, it is infused with sincerity in support of its essentially positive message. However, as those who have had privilege of seeing his “From Johnny to Jack” cabaret show are aware, no Luke Kennedy set is complete without some Farnsie, and with some sensational string accompaniment courtesy of Camerata’s musicians, his soulful ‘Help’ both satisfies this expectation and whets the appetite for an encore of sorts share of the anthemic “The Voice”, which, as always, showcases his phenomenal, powerhouse vocals.

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The who’s who of Brisbane cabaret performers continues with Tom Oliver, who mixes things up with a toilet-paper worthy performance that takes us from Bee Gee’s high-note hand washing reminder to country and western, and even reggae realisations in response to audience requests, before summing up the show’s sentiment in ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’. Things slow down with Lai Utovou and Rachel Everett-Jones‘ share of Simon & Garfunkel’s sensitive signature song, ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ in humble reminder that comfort for those in need is closer than they might think.

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Lai Utovou himself shares a smooth sway-along BB King song and, in her Little Red Company debut, Irena Lysiuk showcases her velvety voice as she gives the audience a laid back but still vulnerable take of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’, leading to singalong of its iconic testament to turbulent times of thunder. It is one of many wonderful moments of appreciated connection in a world where isolating is so foreign. Indeed, the new concept shows how even from your front room, audience involvement can be achieved, through call and response or even just through the online stream of comments.

For members of a crippled industry to come together in such a hopeful fashion is certainly a testament to their spirit. And, not only this, but they are planning to do it all over again this Friday March 27th. Hear them and help them via live stream on the company’s Facebook page, if you have ever enjoyed a Little Red Company show or performance of one of these artists, or even just a show in general. In the meantime you can continue to enjoy the full first show, knowing that donations are still welcome at www.theisolatelateshow.com. Every dollar raised goes directly to creative workers who desperately need the relief of financial assistance at this time, especially freelancers, sole traders and casual employees.

Seminal sisterly sorrow

Three Sisters

QUT, The Loft

March 10 – 14

Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” is a seminal text, which probably explains the number of school groups in attendance at the recent production featuring QUT BFA (Acting) Third Year Students, supported by QUT BFA (Technical) Production students. The presence of so many secondary students within the audience also serves to illustrate the challenge that presentation of the classic text poses, given its 2.5 hour+ length. With this particular share of such a fresh new version, however, its experience was engaging from start to finish.

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Interest is immediately established in the show’s staging, which sees audience members seated around a stage of fragmented country-house rooms jigsawed together, affording the feel of immersive theatre without need for audience involvement. Everything is fragmented with incomplete door frames (courtesy of Chloe Greaves’ detailed production design) et al. The scattering of books, opulent flowers and chandeliers hint to the esteem of the family. Amongst the subdued palette, however, are design element hints as to character’s Act One relationships; while the sisters drink Moët while tottering about in heels and jewels, their servant Anfisa’s (Sidney Shorten) outfit is completed by sandshoes and their brother Andrei (Ben Jackson) stands out in striking red jacket as the head of the Prozorov household, despite his life as put-upon partner to the awkward Natasha (Jeanda St James).

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The hopeful but bored titular sisters, matriarchal Olga (Lucy Heathcote), quick-tempered Masha (Isobel Grummels) and idealistic Irina (Imogen Trevillion) are trapped by circumstances in the small town of an unidentified Russian province where their late father was stationed far from Moscow in 1901. Olga fears losing herself as a teacher in the local high school, Masha is trapped in an unhappy marriage to fussy teacher Kulygin (Egan Sun-Bin) and the optimistic Irina yearns for opulence. For now, though, it is a time of celebration in honour of easily-enchanted middle sister Irina’s ‘name day’ (also the first anniversary of their father’s death), which means visit from soldiers, led by the gallant Vershinin (Tate Hinchy), bringing with them a sense of noble idealism. With army officers visiting often, the sisters have company, however, it soon becomes apparent that this is insufficient. What follows from there is a study over time of unrequited hope amongst Russian’s pre-revolutionary privileged class as each character tries desperately to eke some happiness out of their drab day-to-day existences and unrequited longing to return to Moscow.

In the QUT students’ hands “Three Sisters” is very much a play of two distinct halves. While audience members leave the theatre, interval transforms Act Two’s staging to a stark contrast to its former self, bare but for a few pieces of furniture and scattering of withered leaves in metaphoric emphasis of its change of season. Now, years later, Andrei and Natasha are married. His red jacket is gone but Natasha is garishly bejewelled and gleefully despotic as she enters Olga and Irina’s shared room (in sign that she has taken over the household). Sound (Jack Alcock) and lighting design (Jason Glenwright) convey a panicked aesthetic that is dominated by a fire in the town. In terms of the narrative, however, things are a slow burn. While its character studies are engrossing and of their own merit, however, moments of humour are welcomed as attempts at love are frustrated at every turn.

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Successfully translating the narrative of “Three Sisters” to the stage needs to bring the drama of its human motivations to the surface. This is achieved through both Daniel Evans’ tight direction the impressive work of all ensemble members. Heathcoate anchors things with a solid performance as the brave-faced and dutiful Olga, while Trevillion brings a radiant energy Irina’s deflation from optimism to disillusionment.

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Jackson, meanwhile, is well cast as Andrei. While he is not often on stage, the subtlety of his performance as he gambles away the family’s future security is still noteworthy. And, St James shows incredibility versatility in her presentation of Natasha, credibly taking her from timid, dishevelled speaker of the most sense in Act One call-out of the others’ frivolous lifestyles to tables-turned wielder of obnoxious power. Also of note, as the drunken Doctor Chebutykina, Rachel Nutchey brings a consistent energy, and much comic relief through her well-timed word play and innuendo, cresendoing to an alcohol-fuelled existential crisis.

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“You talk and talk the whole day long,” Masha complains to her brother Andrei late in the play. This is, indeed, a play full of people willing to talk, but who are rarely willing to listen. While it may be a long journey, in the hands of these creatives, it is more than just a study of boredom. While the motif of Chekhov’s gun appears in Act Two after an earlier firearm mention, for example, so too does a soundtrack of songs like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ as an appropriate take into interval. While the stage is sometimes frenzied with three sections being used simultaneously and a dozen characters appearing at once, this is tempered by some lovely stylised moments of slow-motion movement and alike.

Whilst on one hand, “Three Sisters” is an ominous study of sisterly sorrow and the consequences of captivity, it is also an examination of the affecting distance between dreams and reality. This production celebrates the play’s status as a cerebral work of conversations and contemplations, but does so in such a dynamic way as to make the work as accessible as ever.

Boho Boom!

Tick, Tick… Boom! (That Production Company)

Crete Street Theatre

March 12 – 14

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Like Bobby in Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”, struggling artist Jon (Jackson McGovern) is grappling with a 30s birthday. As many do, he considers this as a turning point in life, as he sees those around him all appearing to be settling down. Especially, he is filled with pre-mid-life-crisis self-doubt around his decision to be a composer, given how his musical theatre career has stalled. Exploration of this is what makes up the 90 minutes of “Tick, Tick … Boom!”, the musical by “Rent” composer Jonathan Larson, an autobiographical work that Larson performed on-and-off as a solo show prior to the debut of his magnum opus musical.

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In 2001, five years after Larson’s death, a revised, three-character version of “Tick, Tick … Boom!”, premiered off-Broadway. Even expanded to a three-person show, this remains an intimate piece of theatre. More reflective rock monologue than musical, it traverses a range of somewhat obscure song inspirations, with numbers like ‘Green Dress’ and ‘Sugar’. The songs are written by Jon as part of this story about ambitiously writing a show, the dystopian musical Superbia. And while he is waiting on tables and trying to write the “Hair” of the ‘90s, those around him are equally at odds with their lives; his girlfriend Susan (Stephanie Long) wants to get married and move out of New York City, and his best friend Michael (Josh Whitten) is making big bucks on Madison Avenue.

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Whitten is delightful as Jon’s fabulous friend Michael who relishes the lavish Gucci lifestyle he enjoys living in Victory Towers in contrast to that of his composer friend-since-summer-camp-days. And he contributes immensely to the humour of two particularly memorable scenes, when Jon takes up Michael’s offer to work at his advertising agency and during the dance break of ‘No More’. Similarly, Long jumps in and out of numerous roles with ease and showcases incredible vocals in the musical-within-a-musical’s show stopping number, ‘Come to Your Senses’. And McGovern is excellent in the demanding role as the passionate protagonist Jon, one that sees him on stage for the show’s duration. His energetic almost frenetic performance projects an authentic sense of time running out, that sits well with the show’s themes.

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It is unfortunate that “Tick, Tick … Boom!” is performed so infrequently. The style that eventually blossomed into “Rent” is certainly evident. ‘No More’, for example, has a real ‘Rent’ fast-paced rock sound. A range of emotions is covered in its soundtrack of diverse styles (Larson took much pride in being able to write music in a wide variety of genres) and subjects, with witty lyrics like those of Jon’s idol, Stephen Sondheim. ‘Sunday’, for example, is about the boorish patrons of the diner in which Jon works, while ‘No More,’ is a humorous ode to materialism.

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‘30/90’ is a catchy opening rock number in its build to an explosive chorus, immediately showcasing the small, but talented band (under Luke Volker’s musical direction) hidden from view high above the stage. And Daniel Anderson’s lighting evokes an array of emotional palettes and settings in complement of Lachlan Van Der Kreek’s vision design, capturing the beauty that lies at the core of this thoughtful work.

Its themes are familiar to those in the ‘La Boheme’ no-day-like-today know, as Jon laments the difficulty of being idealist and original in the unimaginative early 1990s (as a solo show it was initially known by the title “Boho Days”). Indeed, when Jon explains how he believes that his brand of rock music could change Broadway, one cannot help but think of their prophecy in relation to Larson’s revolutionary rock opera “Rent”, one of the industry’s most influential works from even its hugely successful off-Broadway run.

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While “Tick, Tick … Boom!” has no musical numbers as memorable as those of the latter “Rent”, it does include hint enough to tantalise the taste-buds of Rent-heads and newbies alike. It is an entertaining boho-ish show, experience of which flies by in what appears to be the shortest of times, thanks to Timothy Wynn’s tight direction. Whilst it is a must-see show for all the lovers of “Rent”, That Production Company’s “Tick, Tick … Boom!” is also a compelling show for musical theatre fans in general, superbly realised, as always, by a company that never disappoints.

Mother nature nuance

Mother (If Theatre)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

March 4 – 14

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Noni Hazlehurst is unrecognisable in “Mother” as the dishevelled vagrant Christie, wandering about the trash that litters the Cremorne Theatre’s ramshackle staging. Christie is a homeless alcoholic, sorrowful in her long-ago ruin but resolute in her attempts to survive on the suburban fringe of Melbourne. And Hazlehurst absolutely inhabits her just as Christie inhabits the littered debris of Kat Chan’s set design.

This is Daniel Keene’s moving and profoundly thought-provoking play “Mother”, a story that is deeply emotional by its mere nature in offer of insight into the lonely predicament of a homeless woman who met misfortune and now exists forsaken by society. Her story is a gripping one, as told by Hazlehurst. Her performance is a highly-nuanced one of observational detail as she shuffles and shrugs about as if uncomfortable in her own self and experience. And in conjunction with Matt Scholten’s subtle direction, it elicits an emotional, empathetic rather than pitiful reaction from many audience members as she relates the tragic episodes of her unfortunate life as daughter, wife and mother. Vividly she recalls her life of being misunderstood by her just-as-unhappy-in-the-marriage husband Lenny, affected by post-natal depression and granted meagre access to her baby son, Lenny (named after his father), whom she secretly named Beau.

Things start with the overt but authentic “so he said”, “so I said” shared recall of conversations past before Christie’s story ebbs and flows through tragedy and the comedy that is needed to endure it. And her story is more than just one of anguish. Foul-mouthed at times, she stoically finds the humour in life and we easily laugh along with her until we are touched by her truths. And as Darius Kedros’s grim soundscape and Tom Willis’s perceptive lighting design guide us through the changing emotional tones of her narrative, we are left mesmerised in its heart-wrenching, pin-drop moments of silent vulnerability.

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A 70-minute one-hander show of such intense subject matter is a grand undertaking for any performer, but necessary in this instance for share of this small and tremendously sad story. While Christie’s is an individual story, however, it is also obviously a universal one, and, as such, it serves to give voice to the disposed of our society, making it an important work as well as a moving one. And if not touched by its themes of motherhood, audiences may also leave with consideration of the notion of legacy and who will be the last to remember us.

Comedy camaraderie

Speed: The Movie, The Play (Act/React)

Labyrinth, Brisbane Powerhouse

February 27 – March 22

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There is a moment during Act/React’s “Speed: The Movie, The Play” in which the show’s hero (not Jack Travern as in the movie the show is parodying, but instead just Keanu), instructs audience members to “really press yourself in against some strangers and make some new friends”. It comes as the 171 bus in which we are travelling to Venice Beach (in reality a vintage vehicle on loan from the Queensland Omnibus and Coach Society) is about to leap over a missing 50-feet wide (or whatever that is in metres) chunk of interstate, without the ability to slow down, in recreation of the ‘90s action flick’s immortal, dangerous bridge jump. It’s a standout moment of the show (created by Brisbane-based performers Dan Beeston, Natalie Bochenski and Gregory Rowbotham), not so much narratively, but for the way it conveys the community of camaraderie that develops in shared experience of this immersive work in which audience members assume the roles of hostages on the bus.

It’s a shared sense of fun that begins from back in the show’s opening minutes when all forty members of the audience are crammed together in a make-shift elevator, complete with accompanying musak, before police shimmying towards ‘the death bus’ that represents the location of the majority of the show’s action. As those familiar with the work’s source material, the 1994 action movie “Speed”, will know, a bomber, here known only as Dennis (Damian Campagnolo), as in Dennis Hopper, has seized control of the bus and planted explosives set to detonate when the bus slows below 50 miles per hour.

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While Los Angeles cop Keanu (Daren King) soon appears on the scene to save the day, the audience member hostages are very invested in events, serving as heroes in the story through enlistment to help with tasks or deliver lines. It is all very much as it was in the show’s initial sell-out season in 2015, including having an audience member serve as Sandra (as in Sandra Bullock). Since then the Brisbane-based Act/React have developed a growing repertoire of unique, pop culture-inspired immersive comedy experiences and just as their “Titanic: The Movie, The Play” took aim at Billy Zane, in this show it is Keanu who cops it through King’s over-emphasis of his idiosyncratic chilled acting style and the script’s clever incorporation of many Keanu movie mentions and jokes about his career.

Much humour comes from this craftedness, as well as the ad-libbed moments of dialogue from the skilled cast. Another highlight is the company’s inventive approach to recreating the high-octane nature of the explosive ‘90s film event. Indeed, half the fun of the show is seeing realisation of its logistical ambition as large-scale Hollywood-ish stunts, visual effects and memorable movie moments are recreated on a DIY budget of inflatable objects, cut outs and overhead projections.

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“Speed: The Movie, The Play” is a low tech high camp theatrical romp of the most irreverent sort, perfect for appearance at the Brisbane Comedy Festival. The self-described shameless comedic homage to the 1994 action thriller is packed full of puns, cheesy lines and even some innuendo in attempt to diffuse the bomb that threatens us all. Bomb threats aside, experience of the show is a most enjoyable ride that even features a group singalong amongst new-found fellow passenger friends. Only a passing familiarity with the movie is required, which makes it an easily accessible work that serves as an enjoyable gateway to immersive theatre for those who have perhaps never previously experienced this type of work.

Happy Penzance place

The Pirates of Penzance in Concert (Lynch & Paterson)

Princess Theatre

February 21 – 22

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February 2020 is the perfect time to present a production of “The Pirates of Penzance”. The story features a paradox caused by the once-every-four-years occurrence of February 29. It concerns Frederic, who, having completed his 21st year, is released from his mistaken apprenticeship to the titular band of tender-hearted and inept pirates. When he meets Mabel, the daughter of Major-General Stanley, the two fall instantly in love. Complications ensue of course as Frederic learns, that he was born on the 29th of February, and so, technically, he has a birthday only once each leap year and, as his indenture specifies that he remain apprenticed to the pirates until his “twenty-first birthday”, he must serve for another 63 years.

The show is quintessentially British; set during the reign of Queen Victoria, the comic operetta occurs on a rocky seashore on the coast of Cornwall. And, also appropriately, in this concert version is the profiling of the orchestra on stage, under the baton of its infectiously passionate conductor Lucas D Lynch.

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The energy of the entire show is irresistible; making it pantomimic in nature even though its characters are thoughtfully drawn. Nathan Kneen is a charismatic larger-than-life buccaneer leader who adds much to the show’s sometimes meta-theatre approach with occasional interactions with audience members and Lynch alike. Kneen plays the role of the fashionable pirate king ‘with a pirate head and a pirate heart’, with a touch of Jack Sparrow swagger, however, resists the temptation to over camp his performance.

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Much of the show’s humour comes from Kneen and the over-the-top reactions of those around him, such as those of Ruth (Patricia Dearness), Frederic’s nursery maid when he was younger, in encouragement of Frederick to take her as his ‘beautiful’ wife. And when ‘timidly-inclined’ police march on stage in single file in the iconic, ‘No, I’ll be brave’, their animated facial expressions combine with Kamara Henrick’s clever choreography to result in all-aged engagement.

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Along with its tarantara tunes, the show is known for its patter songs, which require top-notch performers for effective delivery. Accordingly, Grant Cochman is eccentrically the very model of modern major general, delivering his trademark, witty ‘Major-General’s Song’ with an aplomb that sees audience members bopping along to the famous satire of the idea of the ‘modern’ over-educated British Army general of the period. The rapid-fire delivery of nonsensical lyrics in ‘My Eyes Are Fully Open’, featuring Frederic (Jack Biggs), Ruth and the Pirate King in ‘particularly rapid unintelligible patter [that] isn’t generally heard and if it is it doesn’t matter’ is, similarly, another highlight.

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With swashbuckling pirates and bumbling police, a dashing hero and a beautiful maiden, “The Pirates of Penzance” offers much to audiences of all ages. Indeed, Gilbert and Sullivan’s most memorable score serves as a wonderful gateway into the operatic genre. This operetta in two acts features many talented vocalists, including General Stanley’s daughters (Kayleigh Marven, Sophie Price and Belinda Ward), from their initial, exuberant and highly-melodic ‘Climbing over Rocky Mountain’ gaily tread of the measure, and a skilled orchestra that brings its timeless score to life in moments of soft strings and rousing ensemble numbers alike (‘With Cat-Like Tread’ when the pirates steal onto the Major General’s estate seeking vengeance, is a lively and incredibly likeable Act Two highlight). Along with its impressive overture, these numbers not only make it a delight for fans of Gilbert and Sullivan and musical theatre/operetta alike, but an accessible introduction to the genres.

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This is wildly entertaining show of great vitality, full of rich characterisation. Samantha Paterson makes for a formidable Mabel. Biggs is a dashing Frederic and his duets with Mabel convey a lovely tenderness. Dearness’ lovelorn nurse Ruth really comes into her own in Act Two when she is given more to do than lust over her former, much-younger charge.

In Lynch & Paterson’s hands it is easy to appreciate the place of “The Pirates of Penzance” as one of the most enduringly popular of Gilbert and Sullivan’s many comic operas, with many iconic songs, witty dialog and lyrics, its clever narrative and its memorable characters. The music is exquisite in its ability to transport audiences to a happy place of good, old-fashioned entertainment.