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The Pirates of Penzance (Bristol)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Bristol Hippodrome

The Pirates of Penzance is a positive feast for the senses, and along with HMS Pinafore and The Mikado rates among the most popular of Gilbert & Sullivan's operettas.

The story is the usual confused happenings that always seem to occur in a G&S show! Frederic (played by Nicholas Sharratt) celebrates his 21st birthday, content in the knowledge that he can now be free of the pirate crew, to whom he was mistakenly apprenticed (he should have been apprenticed to a pilot!).

As he has come of age he can now leave the pirate crew behind – whom as individuals he loves dearly but whose buccaneering ways he abhors. He now plans to return to society accompanied by his ever present and devoted nursery maid Ruth (played by Rosie Aldridge). Frederic has never seen any other woman other than the 47 year-old Ruth, and she persuades him that she has all the looks he could ever want.

Frederic and Ruth go ashore where to Ruth's horror they meet up with Major General Stanley (Richard Suart) – and his bevy of beautiful daughters. Frederic, of course, falls in love with one of the girls – Mabel (Rebecca Bottone), while the all too soft hearted pirates set their sights on the other daughters.

This production, directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans, has everything you could possibly want from the show whatever your age. It has the wonderful Gilbert and Sullivan catchy songs and airs, all the swashbuckling action of the pirates to add glamour to the proceedings, the burgeoning love of Mabel and Frederick, and a happy, feel good ending – what more could anyone possibly want.

The principals and chorus from Scottish Opera are outstanding – not just with their musical abilities, but also with their brilliant interpretation of the characters and comic timing. Graeme Broadbent's Sergeant of Police has the audience in stitches throughout, and Richard Stuart's "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General" is breathtaking and superb. There are no weak links, from the smallest chorus part to the major principals. The Orchestra of Scottish Opera, conducted by Derek Clark, provides splendid accompaniment, and the choreography by Steve Elias is brilliant to watch.

The set is designed by Jamie Vartan and is very simple, depending mainly on the use of geometric shapes, but coupled with clever lighting (by Colin Grenfell), and strategic use of assorted "flying" pieces of scenery the result is very impressive.

A first class production.

- Barbara Maxwell


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