This will represent the third time that Ian Talbot has directed Papp's adaptation, which was a major success when it originally played in New York's Central Park. Talbot claims that Papp's inspiration was to "introduce outrageous ideas in the most unlikely places, such as Frederic's Elvis impression". David Alder features in the cast as the Major General, whilst Wilmot can also be seen at the Open Air Theatre playing Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The Pirates of Penzance, or The Slave of Duty, was first produced at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York on 31 December 1879. The London debut followed in April 1880 at the Opera Comique. The story concerns Frederic, who as a boy was mistakenly apprenticed to a pirate instead of a pilot. Interestingly, Gilbert himself had been captured by Italian brigands at the age of two and then been ransomed for £25. Most of Sullivan's score was written in his New York hotel room. During the work, he wrote to his mother saying, "I think it will be a great success for it is exquisitely funny and the music is strikingly tuneful".
Gary Wilmot admits to having arrived in show business quite late, after working as both a store clerk and a scaffolder. He has appeared to considerable acclaim in a number of major musicals, including Carmen Jones, Me & My Girl and Copacabana. He hosted the Olivier Awards for BBC TV in 1996 and has also compered his own Showstoppers series. Su Pollard was born in Nottingham and rose to prominence on the BBC's comedy series Hi-De-Hi playing the chalet maid Peggy. She has also regularly appeared on stage and took the song Starting Together to number two in the charts in 1986.
The late Joseph Papp was famous for founding the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1954, but he also had a love of Gilbert & Sullivan's music. His modernised Pirates of Penzance played to wide acclaim in New York, but later made for an unsuccessful movie. Papp's version was criticised in traditionalist circles, not least because of his synthesised arrangements for a commercial audience on Broadway. The theatre critic Jerry Tallmer said of Papp that he had a "passion for Shakespeare and a passion for people. He was able to combine the two like no-one else ever did". He produced and directed many plays, helping to nurture the talents of David Mamet, Al Pacino, Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep along the way. His vision of providing free Shakespeare in the Park ultimately became a major US arts institution, extending to his non-profit making Public Theater. He died of cancer in 1991 although the legacy of his work is still very much in evidence today.
Following the London dates, the production will play at Bromley from 10 September before calling at High Wycombe, Jersey, Woking, Chichester, Stoke-on-Trent, Reading, Glasgow, Plymouth, Brighton, Richmond, Leicester and Milton Keynes.
- by Gareth Thompson