The Pirates of Penzance

Wed 5th – Sat 8th February 2014


Joseph Cooper

at 22:56 on 5th Feb 2014



'Pirates of Penzance' is a production I've seen often, and this is some of the best of Gilbert and Sullivan, at its very best. The performance is a tour-de-force; brilliantly comic, charmingly irrelevant and exquisitely beautiful. Green and Haigh are fabulous in the lead roles, with Harkcom coming into his own as Major General Stanley, with a mixture of stuttering hesitancy and breathless exuberance; his rendition of the part's signature song is ridiculously impressive, and he even surprised us with a little trumpet playing later on. Clarke's Pirate King possesses a hilarious, and most fitting swashbuckling campness, and has truly remarkable eyebrows that can summon laughs with a life of their own. Lowe's Ruth also deserves mention for a strong vocal performance and managing to squeeze some genuine moving sentiment into her playfully silly lyrics, even managing to look no more than a little strained when having a pirate on her back.

Although I know as much as an under-trained gnat about music, the singing and orchestra were beautiful to my ears. That ingenious paradox of Gilbert and Sullivan – that mixture of musical beauty and lyrical, irrelevant fun – was truly demonstrated at the very highest level. The lighting was tasteful, and at times created some rather charming silhouettes; the costumes were bright, cheerful and self-aware of their dramatic purpose (despite one slight hiccup) – just like the production should be. The physical humour of the piece was scattered, sparing, at times ridiculous, and all the better because of it. It mainly consisted of sideways glances, slight expressions and some remarkably ingenious stage direction and choreography (oh, and a union jack) – all of which was hilarious to watch. Of particular note for me was the choreography for the policemen, whose facial expressions were priceless, and whose every single step and musical note from entrance to exit made the audience burst out laughing. The production had almost everything I could wish for, including a few surprises, such as a teddy-bear and a splurge of 'Pirates of the Caribbean'. Little scriptural insertions made all the difference, in keeping with, nay, enhancing the spirit of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Comic opera of this kind can be hard to 'get', given how utterly, shamelessly silly it is. The audience, however, wanted to clap, and keep clapping, wanted to laugh, and keep laughing, seemingly willed to support the cast at every turn – there was a rather electric feel in the concert hall; bubbly, cheerful and slightly perplexed. The cast seemed to be enjoying themselves enormously, and the audience seemed to love it even more.

Faults in the performance could probably be found, if I looked for them hard enough, but I have little inclination to do so, as everything else certainly makes up for them an hundred times over. Perhaps the set was a little unremarkable, but it matters exceedingly little when the stage is used to its full potential – the production uses the whole space, on and off stage, which creates quite the spectacle; it is a marvellous, simply uplifting experience for the senses, part bubble-bath, part skydiving, right until its shamelessly contrived, exultantly hilarious and endlessly pleasing ending (if you ignore the cheerful slap in the face for feminism). The performance has panache, exuberance, enjoyment, foolishness, irrelevance, playfulness, patriotism, beautiful operatics and musical score, maybe even a strong social message if you were prepared to find it; my word, this 'Pirates of Penzance' has everything but tragedy, which was merrily left outside, and for the better. Gilbert and Sullivan being performed by the Cambridge Gilbert and Sullivan Society – what could be better? Only going and seeing it, surely.


Kavana Ramaswamy

at 01:52 on 6th Feb 2014



The team behind the Pirates of Penzance has put on an excellent show. The comic ridiculousness of the script was evenly matched by the enthusiastically exaggerated performance of the cast – from the excitable daughters of Major-General Stanley to the coy nursemaid Ruth to the spineless policemen, each of the actors was a delight to witness. Never a dull moment in the play, the occasional breaking of the fourth wall by the Pirate King and Major-General Stanley definitely added to the hilarity. Meanwhile the music was good enough to have the audience joining in with the beats by the end.

The plot focuses on Frederic, who is mistakenly apprenticed to a pirate and is forced by his unshakable commitment to doing his duty to remain one in spite of his denunciation of the trade. Naturally, it also conflicts with his love for Mabel, one of the Major General’s daughters, providing even more fodder for an amusing melodrama. While initially, the actors seemed to have some trouble with the lack of space on the stage and bumped into the props, the problem sorted itself out soon enough. Moreover, the use of audience-space and the careful positioning of the (sometimes numerous) actors on stage allowed for some focus on minor characters without it being too much of a distraction from the main plot.

One minor issue was that the singing was slightly inaudible once or twice (during the songs “When Fred’ric was a little lad” and “Oh, is there not one maiden breast?”), but for the rest of the show it was all but immaculate. Mention must be made of the musical talent of Gabrielle Haigh, who plays Mabel, and Tristan Harkcom (Major-General Stanley), who sung “I am the very model of a modern Major-General” without breaking a sweat. James White’s portrayal of the not-so-heartless (and rather naïve) Pirate King was undoubtedly the icing on the cake. His expressions alone and loud mannerisms were sufficient to articulate the scope and mood of any scene even before anything was sung.

I would definitely recommend watching this show. Whether you’re a first timer to the Pirates of Penzance or a seasoned lip-syncer of its music, this is not a performance you would want to miss.


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