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The Pirates of Penzance


Palace Theatre

The Pirates of Penzance

The Pirates of Penzance

Palace Theatre

Reviewed – 12th December 2020



“in true buccaneering style, the company have grabbed the opportunity to plunder the West End”


It is worth remembering what a lasting impact the nineteenth century impresario, Richard D’Oyly Carte, had on London’s theatreland. Having brought Arthur Sullivan and W. S. Gilbert together he built the Savoy Theatre in order to stage their works. Later, in an attempt to establish more serious opera, Carte built the Royal English Opera House; which is now known as the Palace Theatre. Although it staged Arthur Sullivan’s “Ivanhoe”, none of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas ever made it onto the grand stage.

Until now.

Sasha Regan’s all male “Pirates of Penzance” has enjoyed success for a decade now in the UK and Australia, its journey briefly interrupted by the pandemic. But in true buccaneering style, the company have grabbed the opportunity to plunder the West End, while many theatres are still sleeping, and seize the accolade of presenting the first Gilbert and Sullivan work to play in D’Oyly Carte’s purpose-built theatre. And it deserves it.

The company don’t take the stage by storm. Instead, they use the weapons of wit, joy, irreverence, humour and harmony. It is perhaps one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most accessible comic operas, containing some of Sullivan’s most recognised music. Gilbert’s libretto has a simplicity and clarity which matches Regan’s staging. What will lodge in the memory for a long time is how the production transports you to a bygone era. The space is vast, even by West End standards, but the cast fill it completely with a stripped back set, one piano, a bunch of finely tuned singers, and not a single microphone between them. Nothing is forced either. Musical Director Richard Baker’s piano notes and arpeggios float across the auditorium carrying the voices with them to the far corners of the theatre. Lizzi Gee’s superb choreography may have been devised with smaller spaces in mind, but the physicality of the ensemble make no apologies and they pull it off.

Set during Queen Victoria’s reign on the coast of Cornwall, the story concerns the dutiful and soft-hearted Frederic who, having reached his twenty-first year has been released from his apprenticeship to a band of equally benevolent pirates. He promptly falls in love with Mabel, the daughter of the very model of a modern Major-General. Yet he soon learns that he was born on the twenty-ninth of February, so only has a birthday every four years. Which makes him only five years old, meaning he has another sixty years to serve. What ensues is a gorgeous romp through the themes of courage, duty and honour.

Alan Richardson, as Mabel, stuns us with his soaring falsetto. But it is unfair to single him out, the entire ensemble is pitch perfect, from bass through to soprano. It is credit to the cast that at no point does it really occur to us that we are watching men dressed as women. There is plenty of chest and facial hair on view, but such are the nuances, mannerisms and finesse of the cast, we are convinced. This is not high camp; it is not drag; it is character acting at its finest. Tom Senior’s Frederic is just as convincing, and you believe in the chemistry between the actors. Leon Craig’s hapless nurse, Ruth, is a master of comedy, vying for the laughs with David McKechnie’s Major-General. The accolades, though, belong to the entire team and given space they would all receive a special mention.

The continued success of the all-male “Pirates of Penzance” is undoubtedly on dry land; and this stunning production feels completely at home in the West End. Yes, maybe it might not have made it there in normal times (though I like to think it would), but we can certainly hoist the flag to celebrate one of the most delightful, innovative, funny and musically rich interpretations of Gilbert and Sullivan.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Danny Kaan


The Pirates of Penzance

Palace Theatre until 13th December


Recently reviewed by Jonathan:
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Falling Stars | ★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Marry me a Little | ★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Rent | ★★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Right Left With Heels | ★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Ute Lemper: Rendezvous With Marlene | ★★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Salon | ★★★ | Century Club | December 2020
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk | ★★★★ | Online | December 2020
The Dumb Waiter | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | December 2020
The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas | ★★★★ | Charing Cross Theatre | December 2020


Click here to see our most recent reviews


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – new cast

Rehearsals began this week for the new West End cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child who will start their performances at the Palace Theatre in London’s West End on 24 May 2017 following the final performance from the current cast on 21 May 2017.

Jamie Glover will play Harry Potter with Emma Lowndes as his wife Ginny Potter and Theo Ancient as their son Albus Potter. Thomas Aldridge will play Ron Weasley with Rakie Ayola as Hermione Granger and Helen Aluko as their daughter Rose Granger-Weasley. Playing Draco Malfoy will be James Howard with Samuel Blenkin as his son Scorpius Malfoy.

They are joined by new cast members David Annen, Ruthxjiah Bellenea, Danny Dalton, Leah Haile, Rupert Henderson, Elizabeth Hill, April Hughes, James McGregor, Sarah Miele, Jordan Paris, James Phoon, Henry Rundle, Ged Simmons, Mark Theodore, Gideon Turner and Ed White. Original cast members Nicola Alexis, Rosemary Annabella, Phoebe Austen, Annabel Baldwin, Jabez Cheeseman, Morag Cross, Esme Grace, Lowri James, Martin Johnston, Alfred Jones, Barry McCarthy, Sandy McDade, Tom Mackley, Harrison Noble, Ben Roberts, Nuno Silva, Hope Sizer and Joshua Wyatt complete the 42-strong company playing a variety of characters, including seven children who will alternate two roles.


Back Row (left to right) James Howard (Draco Malfoy), Emma Lowndes (Ginny Potter), Jamie Glover (Harry Potter) Front Row (left to right) Thomas Aldridge (Ron Weasley), Rakie Ayola (Hermione Granger), Helen Aluko (Rose Granger-Weasley), Theo Ancient (Albus Potter), Samuel Blenkin (Scorpius Malfoy)

Row 5 Back Row (left to right) Joshua Wyatt, Ruthxjiah Bellenea, Jordan Paris, Elizabeth Hill, Mark Theodore, James Phoon, Henry Rundle, Leah Haile, Tom Mackley Row 4 (left to right) Rupert Henderson, James McGregor, Nuno Silva, Gideon Turner, Ged Simmons, Danny Dalton, Ed White, Martin Johnston Row 3 (left to right) Lowri James, Morag Cross, Nicola Alexis, Rosemary Annabella, Sarah Miele Row 2 (left to right) David Annen, Annabel Baldwin, James Howard, Rakie Ayola, Jamie Glover, Thomas Aldridge, Emma Lowndes, Barry McCarthy, Sandy McDade Row 1 Front Row (left to right) April Hughes, Samuel Blenkin, Jabez Cheeseman, Phoebe Austen, Alfred Jones, Esme Grace, Harrison Noble, Hope Sizer, Ben Roberts, Theo Ancient, Helen Aluko


Emma Lowndes’ (Ginny Potter) many television credits include Bella Gregson in Cranford, Mary Rivers in Jane Eyre and Margie Drewe in Downton Abbey. She can soon be seen as Carla Davis in Channel 4’s The Trial. Her theatre credits include The Herbal Bed at the Royal and Derngate Theatre Northampton, Children of the Sun and Thérèse Raquin for the National Theatre, The Accrington Pals, Port, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and The Seagull for the Royal Exchange Theatre and Whose Life is it Anyway? at the Comedy Theatre. On film her credits include Mother’s Milk and All or Nothing.
Theo Ancient (Albus Potter) trained at RADA and will make his professional stage debut in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Thomas Aldridge (Ron Weasley) is currently appearing in Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre. His previous theatre credits include The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for Birmingham Rep, Made in Dagenham at the Adelphi Theatre, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Taming of the Shrew for the Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park, The Secret Garden and Peter Pan – A Musical Adventure for West Yorkshire Playhouse and Birmingham Rep, His Dark Materials on UK tour, Only the Brave for Soho Theatre, and High Society at the Shaftesbury Theatre. His television credits include Undercover, Titanic, Call the Midwife, Silent Witness, Hope and Glory and The Support Group. His film credits include Flea and Blasted.
Rakie Ayola (Hermione Granger) was last on stage in The Rest of Your Life at the Bush Theatre. Her previous theatre credits include King Lear at the Royal Exchange Theatre where she played Goneril, Crave/4.48 Psychosis for Sheffield Crucible, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Apollo Theatre, Dido Queen of Carthage for the Globe Theatre, The Winter’s Tale for the Royal Shakespeare Company and Welcome to Thebes for the National Theatre. Her television credits include No Offence, Vera, Under Milk Wood, Black Mirror, Doctor Who, Silent Witness and Holby City. Her film credits include Been So Long, Dredd, Now is Good and Sahara.
Helen Aluko (Rose Granger-Weasley) is an original member of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child company. Her previous theatre credits include Doctor Faustus for the Royal Exchange Theatre, Once Language, Many Voices for TNT, The Price for Walking Forward, The Wind in the Willows for Sixteen Feet Productions and Beauty and the Beast at Theatre Royal Stratford East. Her television credits include The Driver.
James Howard (Draco Malfoy) is an original member of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child company. His previous theatre credits include Brave New World for Northampton Theatre Royal, Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, Mojo, King Lear and Morte D’Arthur for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Twelfth Night and Ivanov for Donmar Warehouse and The Duchess of Malfi for the National Theatre. His television credits include Black Mirror, Dark Matters, Skins, Spooks, Inspector Lynley Mysteries and Dream Team. On film his credits include Survivor, The Theory of Everything, The Oxford Murders and Penelope.
Samuel Blenkin (Scorpius Malfoy) trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and also makes his professional stage debut in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The critically acclaimed production received its world premiere in June 2016 at the Palace Theatre and is now the recipient of thirteen theatre awards including the Evening Standard Best Play Award. Earlier this month it was announced that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was nominated for a record-breaking eleven Olivier awards, making it the most nominated new play in Olivier history.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is currently booking to 29 April 2018. The next advance ticket release will take place on 25 April 2017. Tickets are priced from £15 per part and for every performance there are over 300 tickets at £20 or less per part. Further ticket releases will be announced throughout the year, details of which will published via the official Harry Potter and the Cursed Child website, social media channels and the official newsletter. 


Photographer by Manuel Harlan




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