The Pirates of Penzance in Concert (Lynch & Paterson)
February 21 – 22
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.