Sasha Regan’s acclaimed all-male production, with a female-led creative team, is something to take pride in. Idgie Beau reviews The Pirates of Penzance:

There is something so delightfully British about Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance – its timeless humour and joyful score have secured its place as a classic piece that can rarely go wrong. Knowingly camp and absurd in a very British way, its setting on the wild and rugged Cornish coast is a reminder that British beaches are the most fun, even if not the most paradisal. Director Sasha Regan’s production is a dynamic and elegant iteration of this well-loved operetta that feels startlingly relevant and contemporary.

Pirates Penzance Wiltons Music Hall

Image courtesy of Scott Rylander

The audience are presented with Robyn Wilson-Owen’s delightfully minimalist set. The outline of clouds are suspended above a bare wooden stage with a low thrust. Grass-topped crates and baskets of long grass give a simple impression of the sandy dunes of the Cornish seaside. Ben Bull’s lighting design is a gorgeous blend of pastel colours to rival any Instagram filter. Before The Pirates of Penzance even begins, it is clear the production will be a clean, modern reimagining.

Pirates Penzance Wiltons Music Hall

Image courtesy of Scott Rylander

Regan’s production opens in a whirlwind of activity with the raucous opening number of ‘Pour, oh pour the Pirate Sherry”. Despite the only accompaniment coming from musical director Richard Baker on piano, the strong vocal performances give the music its deserved and rounded grandeur.

The exuberance of the opening gives momentum to the piece that does not falter at any point throughout. Each incredibly energised and commanding performance is reminiscent of a group of children playing at being pirates, right down to their wooden swords and interchangeable, practical costumes. Lizzi Gee must be commended for her intricate and spirited choreography and movement direction. Under her expert eye the all-male cast skilfully transform from a troupe of ‘laddish’ pirates, to a demure and excitable group of sisters with ease.

Pirates Penzance Wiltons Music Hall

Image courtesy of Scott Rylander

In fact, it is the subtle and sensitive attention to the physical performances from the whole cast that makes this production so successful. It is a testament to the importance of a female-led creative team in an all-male production that the female characters are presented with humility and not humiliation, while still maintaining their comedic purpose. In lesser hands, the female characters could have appeared more like pantomime dames than real women.

After all, Gilbert and Sullivan are not renowned for their well-rounded female roles. Alan Richardson stands out in his performance as the devoted maid-servant Ruth, with a powerful top-range to rival any female alto. It’s is in the closing moments of Act 1 that Richardson silently delivers the most surprisingly moving moment in the production. Tom Bales and Tom Senior have excellent chemistry in their roles of Mabel and Frederic, respectively, with Bales’ delicate falsetto and genteel femininity contrasting well to Senior’s boyish charm.

Pirates Penzance Wiltons Music Hall

Image courtesy of Scott Rylander

The Pirates of Penzance is a masterful and enjoyable production. It expertly balances comedy with sincerity, allowing pantomime slapstick to sit comfortably among truly beautiful choreography. Its all-male ensemble are ceaselessly engaging and honest in their performances.

A production of British creativity, ingenuity, and artistry at its best. A refreshing achievement.

★★★★★

The Pirates of Penzance plays at Wilton’s Music Hall until 16 March 2019. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the venue website.