Tag Archives: Wilton’s Music Hall

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

 

The Good The Bad and The Fifty

The Good, The Bad and the Fifty
★★★★

Wilton’s Music Hall

The Good The Bad and The Fifty

The Good The Bad and the Fifty

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 15th February 2019

★★★★

 

“The cast is strong, verbally agile and crucially – so, so crucially for a show like this – seem to be having a good time”

 

Improvised comedy can be nerve-shredding. For casts, certainly, but for audiences too. Jokes teeter on the brink of finding their target or falling flat. Repartee must hustle along at a relentless pace. Everything is but seconds away from an awkward pause or a fluffed line. Thank God, then, that the stellar cast of the London Improvathon keep it all on the hilarious side of panic.

The theme for this year is all things Wild West, and the series of character introductions demonstrates immediately what territory we’re in (literally). You’ve got your classic hellfire-preaching pastor and chaste daughter, your gunslinging sheriff, your out-of-towner and your town drunk (the likeable character of Dirk Gundersson, with some laugh-out-loud delivery). On the subject of those character introductions, this cast is so huge that running through each character in this way actually risks an early slackening of pace – and hey, isn’t it cheating to use your improv time for beefy prepared intros?

No matter. Once we’re into the meat of the show, the true improvisation, the fun really begins. The model is slick; an excellent compère/director works alongside a remarkably adaptable pair of musicians and a lighting crew to set up each scene, at which point selected actors are bundled in and, without so much as a ‘howdy pard’ner’, the freestyling begins. Naturally some scenes are stronger than others, and, at least in the first of the 25 two-hour chapters, a sense of a meaningful through narrative is hard to find. But the need for one slips away as we’re lured into the peculiar world of ‘Wilton’s Creek’ one vignette at a time. The cast is strong, verbally agile and crucially – so, so crucially for a show like this – seem to be having a good time.

As is perhaps so often the way with improv, standout moments come when things start to get away from our players. It’s quickly clear that we’re in capable hands, with some actors always displaying a clear mastery over their craft (the character of Colonel Sanders, for example, is uniformly a joy to watch). Feeling secure, the audience enjoy the occasional verbal cul-de-sac confident that it will be turned to humour. The Colonel’s spelling out of ‘perspicacity’, visibly instantly regretted, is a great example of this, as is Pastor John breaking character to address an audience member and warn that God will text him their name.

The night isn’t perfect. It’s rotten luck for the less confident cast members to sit among such an accomplished ensemble, as less than whip-smart performances become all the more obvious. And it was notable to me that, at least in the chapter I saw, this cast of approaching twenty people were all white.

This is a blissfully adroit cast though (one might say perspicacious), and it’s hard to begrudge a moment of the very apparent fun being had on stage. And yee ha! It’s delicious silliness for audiences too.

 

Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Claire Bilyard

 


The Good The Bad and the Fifty

Wilton’s Music Hall

 

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

 

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