Tag Archives: James Thackeray

The Pirates of Penzance

The Pirates of Penzance

Wilton’s Music Hall

The Pirates of Penzance

The Pirates of Penzance

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 26th February 2019



“The cast were in fine voice throughout what must be something of an operatic endurance test”


The Pirates of Penzance, along with The Mikado, is probably the most well known and loved of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. ‘I am the very model of a modern Major General’ and ‘A policeman’s lot is not a happy one’ have long since become part of the English cultural kit-bag, and Wilton’s is the perfect setting for Sasha Regan’s revival, imbued as it is with nostalgia, and the ghosts of early revue, vaudeville and musical theatre. The plot is utterly nonsensical, involving a crew of sentimental pirates (they have a soft spot for orphans), an indentured crew member there under false pretenses (his nursemaid thought she was apprenticing him to a pilot), a Major General and his bevy of daughters, and a well-meaning but terrified posse of policemen. Amidst this chaos, our hero Frederic (the pirate-by-proxy) falls in love with Mabel, one of the Major-General’s daughters, and, predictably, after various travails, finally marries her. Suffice it to say, that no-one goes to a Gilbert and Sullivan for the plot!

Gilbert and Sullivan’s enduring appeal lies in the marvellous marriage of music and lyrics that this extraordinarily brilliant duo brought to the stage, and Sasha Regan’s talented cast – with superb musical direction from Richard Baker – performed with skill and evident relish throughout. The opening number smacked a little too much of all-boy burlesque, but ‘I am a pirate king’, two songs later, brilliantly delivered by James Thackeray, steadied the ship and it was pretty smooth sailing henceforth. For the most part, the production successfully trod the delicate line between affectionate high camp and embarrassing caricature, though there were moments, in the first half particularly, which needed to be reined in. Each of the play’s female leads (Alan Richardson as Ruth; Tom Bales as Mabel) was at their most compelling when at their least performative, and Tom Bales beautifully captured the yearning and romance in Mabel’s duet with Frederic, ‘Stay, Frederic stay’. David McKechnie was a splendid Major-General – full of pomp and pathos; and Sam Kipling gave a lovely comic cameo in the role of Edith.

The cast were in fine voice throughout what must be something of an operatic endurance test, particularly for the female leads; Alan Richardson as Ruth stood out in particular in terms of vocal strength and clarity. Lizzie Gee’s choreography was full of fun, and the ensemble work was terrific. Particularly memorable were the young ladies’ fluttering entrance through the gallery, the antics of the moustachioed policemen, and the fast and furious ‘A paradox’. The show cracked along and seldom lost pace, and although some of the lyrics were lost in the bigger ensemble numbers (‘Stay, we must not lose our senses’), the judicious combination of well-articulated singing and Wilton’s acoustics ensured that W.S.Gilbert’s sparkling wordplay delighted as it should.

The Pirates of Penzance was Gilbert and Sullivan’s fifth collaboration, which premiered in New York in 1879. One hundred and forty years later, its loony plot, catchy tunes and witty lyrics still have the power to entertain a packed house, and reduce an audience to tears of laughter. A great deal has happened in that time however. Ironically, Sasha Regan’s all-male production actually takes the sting out of some of the book’s more toe-curling moments with regard to women – I’m thinking particularly here of Frederic’s early treatment of Ruth – but it does seem dated in all the wrong ways to see an all-white cast in 2019, and it is to be hoped that this issue will be addressed when taking the show forward. Let’s get some more pirates on board!


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Scott Rylander


Wilton's Music Hall thespyinthestalls

The Pirates of Penzance

Wilton’s Music Hall until 16th March


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Songs For Nobodies | ★★★★ | March 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★½ | June 2018
Sancho – An act of Remembrance | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Twelfth Night | ★★★ | September 2018
Dietrich – Natural Duty | ★★★★ | November 2018
The Box of Delights | ★★★★ | December 2018
Dad’s Army Radio Hour | ★★★★ | January 2019
The Good, The Bad And The Fifty | ★★★★ | February 2019


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com


Blondel – 4*



Union Theatre

Opening Night – 23rd June 2017




“A heart-warming musical featuring a talented and enthusiastic cast”


Any musical with lyrics from the award winning Sir Tim Rice is bound to attract attention. Not more so then when there is a huge interest in the recent announcement that Rice and Lloyd Webber’s Evita is shortly to return to the West End.

Blondel, currently playing at the Union Theatre, is a feel good rock opera with music by Stephen Oliver and words by Sir Tim Rice. Originally conceived by Sir Tim, the show was written at a time of mega musicals and was seen as a modest one. It did enjoy a West End run in 1983 with the part of Blondel being played by Paul Nicholas.

The musical follows the journey of Blondel, an ambitious monarchist and unappreciated musician working hard for his big break as a minstrel in King Richard The Lionheart’s court.

Whilst the history of Richard I makes for interesting reading, would a story set in 1189 about the Third Crusade make the basis for a great musical? The answer is a positive yes – it is a heart-warming and funny story with great music. Over 30 songs are well sung and supported by a band that never failed to please the ear.

There are powerful performances from a talented and enthusiastic cast. Connor Arnold plays the part of Blondel well. He has stage presence and apart from the odd occasion, has power in his voice to fill the room. Jesse May as Fiona, a feminist ahead of her time, has a lovely voice. However both may have benefitted from being miked.

Neil Moors is a brilliant King Richard and James Thackeray brings Prince John to life. The four monks hold the story together and add humour throughout. Special mention must go to Michael Burgen – his performance of the Assassin is worth the cost of admission alone.

A press night often adds pressure to cast members and even extra pressure was added as Sir Tim was there to observe the production. However the terrific cast were word perfect and appeared to enjoy the whole evening as much as those watching.

It was clear from the laughter, cheering and enthusiastic applause from the audience that this was a well received show that deserves a sold out run.


Production Photography by Scott Rylander




is running at The Union Theatre until 15th July