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The Parson's Pirates (tour - Ipswich, New Wolsey Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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You can trust Opera della Luna to put a spin on the obviously straightforward. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But with The Parson's Pirates it most certainly comes off splendidly.

Obsessively polishing the church-hall piano as the audience filters into the auditorium is musical director Jeff Clarke, playing the church organist. Rector Bender (that's just the first of the Gilbertian puns which litter the initial half of the evening) is planning a production of The Pirates of Penzance to raise funds. Auditions are decided open (cue audience participation and sundry highlights from the rest of the G&S canon).

One of the Rector's two churchwardens Fred Predergast must be a lineal descendant of Bottom from A Midsummer Night's Dream; he plans to play every part available. The other is a twitchy sort of fumbler, Norman Prickett. If Prendergast sports the world's worst toupée, Prickett has a serious problem with his flies. Then Tracy materialises from the audience, all high soprano, bolshie attitude, too-short skirt and chewing gum – a dream of a Mabel.

With otheraudience members volunteering to play Ruth and Frederick respectively, the Rector now has his cast – if he can keep them in line. After the interval we have The Pirates sung perfectly straight (and very well) but with a maelstrom of high campery, role and gender shifting to enliven the proceedings. Celena Bridge gives us her Mabel, not quite the usual simpering damsel, and Clarke resumes his proper persona with a four-piece band to accompany the numbers.

If Richard Gauntlett is very funny as the Rector, that's nothing to his Major-General, delivering an immaculate patter song which earns its encore. Ian Belsey takes on Kate and the Police Sergeant; one feels that Predergast has been short-changed. Louise Crane has fun with Ruth and the slightly more demure Edith as does Jeremy Finch as the hapless apprentice pirate. It's up to Martin George to attempt to take control as the Pirate King – would Prickett have gone so far?


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