The Pirates of Penzance (Tour)
The Union Theatre's all-male Gilbert & Sullivan marches on with catlike tread
Lest G&S purists rush for the exit, the marquee actually reads Sasha Regan's All Male The Pirates of Penzance. It's a bit of a mouthful, and one to which 'with piano accompaniment' should be added if they're being pickily honest about what audiences can expect.
That piano will have sounded fine in the confines of the tiny Union Theatre, the show's original home, but it's a cheeseparing too far in a regular proscenium arch space. Though Sasha Regan's expanded production looks great on the stage, notwithstanding the sterling efforts of David Griffiths on the ivories it sounds like sixpence.
For a production that's been round the block a few times, not to say the world, SRAMPOP feels as spontaneous as the day it was born. Bold visual ideas combine with Lizzi Gee's hilarious choreography to wring every possible sight gag out of Gilbert & Sullivan's score. It'll be interesting to see how Mike Leigh tops Regan's ideas when his much-heralded ENO production opens next month.
Such wear and tear as there is arises from some isolated vocal shortcomings. More than anything else a G&S show needs clear articulation, but one or two members of the current cast suffer from unforgivably sloppy diction. Not Alex Weatherhill, though, who leads from the front as lovelorn spinster Ruth, nor Neil Moors whose manly Pirate King walks the walk and swaggers the swag.
'These pillaging Pirates will steal your heart'
Alan Richardson, possessed of an astonishing Farinelli falsetto, despatches Mabel's coloratura runs with ease and defaults to a wonderfully infectious grin, while among his/her sisters Dale Page is notably forthright and full of life as Kate. But it's the ever-cheery ensemble that really carries the show, rarely pausing for breath and redefining triple threat by quick-changing between pirates, policemen and supernumerary sisters. They are a terrific bunch.
Only one cast member survives from the original Union Theatre company, and Michael Burgen's Samuel (pirate purveyor of life preservers and skeletonic keys) still throws himself into the show with a newbie's enthusiasm. Elsewhere Samuel Nunn looks suitably bewildered as the ever-trusting Frederic, Miles Western presents an unusually urbane Major-General Stanley and the excellent James Waud as the deadpan Sergeant of Police survives being upstaged by the show's most blissfully madcap dance routine.
It's an evening of laughter and warmth, and as they rampage their way round England over the next ten weeks these pillaging Pirates will steal your heart.
The Pirates of Penzance plays at the Richmond Theatre until 18 April, then tours to Winchester, Bath, Guildford, Beverley, Bridlington, Brighton, Exeter, Cambridge and Hackney