words by W S Gilbert music by Arthur Sullivan.

New Theatre George Street Oxford OX1 2AG To 6 July.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed, Thu, Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 0844 871 3020.

then Wales Millennium Centre (Donald Gordon Theatre) Bute Place CF10 5AL 16-20 July 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed, Thu, Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 029 2063 6464.

Runs: 2hr 15min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 July.

More than a dutiful revival.
This is the first Gilbert and Sullivan work to show the collaborators’ tensions working creatively. Sullivan, pining for serious music, took the more reflective Gilbert lyrics into deeply expressive territory, while Gilbert, a lawyer who turns his plot on the kind of legal definition courts thrive on, tended towards fantasy (he had wanted the earlier Trial by Jury to end with a transformation to fairyland).

Mabel, about to lose her love, is given by Sullivan as plangent a lament as any operatic heroine – before Gilbert rushes-in moments later with a joke; Sullivan became expert at flattening his vocal line for Gilbertian bathos.

Certainly, the orchestra at the American premiere declared the score to be opera – though they had a pecuniary motive: playing opera paid more than operetta.

Having Scottish Opera, with Savoy specialists D’Oyly Carte, almost makes it too easy. In a company used to the pirouetting of Italian bel canto even Mabel’s Queen of the Night stratospherics are a matter of course. And Pirates is Sullivan at his most Italianate, as Iolanthe would see him raiding the German tradition.

Strangely, the low parts of the male tunes cause most difficulty. But there’s plenty of comedy between the momentarily fierce pirates and a police force that hasn’t come on much from the days of Shakespeare’s unaccountably effective law-enforcers, Dogberry and Verges.

Graeme Broadbent’s Sergeant pays homage to the late Owen Brannigan’s “nappy lot”, while his rubber-limbed antics are hilarious. At the serious end, both Nicholas Sharratt and Rebecca Bottone act convincingly, he as the slave to duty, she as a recent schoolgirl who retains a girlish glee alongside her emotional depth.

Duty, and guilt at falling short in its observance, runs through this piratical piece; the descent of a cut-out of her Imperial Highness enforces the point.

Yet the production’s constricted by lack of space. Steve Elias tries with the choreography, but the best moments are group shufflings, or sudden frozen images. In one scene, the production tries exploiting lack of space for comedy, but it’s effortful. Elsewhere, there’s the sense more space would have opened-out the production’s wilder side.

Samuel: Andrew McTaggart.
Pirate King: Steven Page.
Frederic: Nicholas Sharratt/Sam Furness.
Ruth: Rosie Aldridge.
Mabel: Rebecca Bottone.
Edith: Katie Grosset.
Kate: Sioned Gwen Davies.
Isabel: Catrine Kirkman.
Major-General Stanley: Richard Suart.
Sergeant of Police: Graeme Broadbent.
The Chorus of The Pirates of Penzance.
The Orchestra of Scottish Opera.

Director: Martin Lloyd-Evans.
Conductor: Derek Clark/James Grossmith.
Designer: Jamie Vartan.
Lighting: Colin Grenfell.
Choreographer: Steve Elias.

2013-07-03 01:29:45

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