What a marvelous setting this lightest of all Gilbert and Sullivan operettas has found aboard The Golden Hinde!
As balmy breezes wafted over us on deck, we glimpsed the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral on the opposite shore dazzling in the dwindling rays of the sun. A glance in the opposite direction allowed us to cast our eyes over the lofty towers of Southwark Cathedral, which this faithful replica of Sir Francis Drake's sailing ship is harboured near. Those who arrived at the dock early enough sat on benches running along either side of its decks. Later arrivals seated themselves in the centre area, where they were instructed to keep their legs up on the platform, well out of the aisles. The pirate king and his colourful crew then leapt onboard, and burst into hearty song en masse. Many a landlubber was forced to linger in the street below, trying to catch a glimpse of the lively proceedings in vain. For Ocean Theatre's irresistible production of Gilbert and Sullivan's tongue in cheek answer to H.M.S. Pinafore, (which did not amuse Queen Victoria or The Royal Navy in the least), The Pirates of Penzance was completely sold-out.
Twenty-year-old Fredrick has mistakenly been apprenticed to a pirate king, instead of to a pilot, as he wished to be. His nurse Ruth's ready acknowledgment of her mistake does nothing to free Fredrick from his indenture, which is scheduled to end on his twenty-first-birthday. However, the pirate king, and his crew are unusually tender hearted, in that they have been known to release captives if they are orphans. Ruth, the middle-aged pirate maid is the only female Frederick has ever seen – until The Major General's five beautiful daughters decide to come on board…
There is little, if anything to fault in this fine production. All of the players seem to relish their roles and play them with an enthusiasm that is highly infectious. And the wide-ranging, thoroughly delightful musical score is performed by a small group of musicians who are as vibrant as they are talented.
Alex Weatherhill is well cast as Fredrick, the likeable lad who wonders whether all lasses are middle aged, heavy limbed and lined. His strong emotive voice tackles rousing numbers with seeming ease, and sends his side of sentimental duets with true love Mabel into the sky above in the first act, and swelling into the rafters below in the second. Emma Clare as Mabel employs her thrilling voice to advantage on her numbers, designed to allow her to scale the heights, to the great pleasure of her audience. Sarah Applewood, Laura Cotton, Helen McBriarty and Angharad Walter, as daughters Kate, Hannah, Isabel and Edith all display great comedic and vocal skills in their roles. When Applewood good-naturedly intermingles with the crowd, she sets a new level of interactive fun in motion. Garry Bailey brilliantly plays the girls' commanding father – The Major General, who sputters and frets his way through his hilarious songs and scenes. Bailey generates many laugh-out loud moments as he holds his head aloft, feathered hat in place, whilst singing his alternatingly boastful or self-pitying songs. Conversely, Luke Tudball makes a fine Pirate King, swashing his buckles and shivering many a timber as he struts across the deck. His vocal rendition of A Pirate King Am I is one of the undisputed highlights of the evening. Andrew James Storey adds his own comic touches to the role of Sergeant of Pirates, and his songs and interactions with his fellow players, as well with the audience add much. But where would a Pirate King and Sergeant be without their crew? Adrian-Jon Barry as Samuel, and fellow pirates, Simon Dobson, Thomas Hopkins and John Rogerson enliven the proceedings no end with their gutsy singing and humorous, often highly physical high jinks.
Ocean Theatre's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's frothy operetta The Pirates of Penzance is a rare treat not to be missed. But it is only being performed aboard the Golden Hinde until September 3rd. So hurry and get your tickets. This is one boat you won't want to miss!