The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company - inheritors of a tradition of Gilbert and Sullivan performance that stretches back to its namesake, the original producer of the team's shows who actually built the Savoy Theatre and the adjoining hotel on the profits he made from them - seem to have gone full-circle. Not only do they now have a permanent foothold again at the Savoy, after two Olivier Award nominated productions at that address last year (HMS Pinafore and The Mikado), but also in the scary combination of deadly reverence and enforced jollity that they apply to the works. It's the kind of thing you're forced to watch with a fixed grin on your face.

It's fashionable to sneer at G&S, and impossible not to at the ridiculous attention to detail of some of their more avid devotees. But for wit, tunefulness and sheer craft, these - the original British musical comedies - haven't been equalled in the succeeding century on this side of the Atlantic.

Unlike the 1981 Broadway reclamation of Pirates, riotously re-staged last year at the Open Air Theatre, which set a new standard for modern-day approaches to G&S, the D'Oyly Carte production that has resurfaced at the Savoy now turns the clock back once again. It even pays historic homage to the original production's genesis in being premiered abroad. Though a single makeshift performance had been given in Paignton in 1879 to establish the show's English copyright, the official premiere of the piece was in New York a day later; and this production has likewise travelled here via Australia's Victoria State Opera, where it was premiered in 1993.

An Australian-based creative team are therefore at the helm, including director Stuart Maunder and designer Roger Kirk. The latter was also responsible for the current lavish London Palladium revival of The King and I, and next to his ravishing work on that show, one can only imagine he was constrained by budgetary limitations here. The rather threadbare set - a painted sky, a distinctly unseaworthy pirate vessel and some foliage - sets the tone, and overall lack of surprise.

In fact, the only surprising thing - and I wish I didn't have to notice it - is the single bit of non-traditional casting, with one of the Major-General's numerous maiden daughters being sung by a solitary black performer, Michelle Lokey-Smid. I'm all for colour-blind, integrated casting; but this kind of tokenist effort actually throws undue attention and focus on her.

Otherwise, this is as reliable, and unexciting, as it gets. There's only one performance here I actually enjoyed - Patti Allison's robust and rotund Ruth - and only one I hated, Royce Mills's Modern Major-General, who struck me as an overmugging combination of Kenneth Williams and Donald Sinden. In the rest, there's little to engage, one way or the other.

Mark Shenton