Sasha Regan’s all-male production lights up the stage of London’s Palace Theatre for a limited West End run.
This delightfully camp reworking of Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic operetta premiered back in the summer of 2009 at the Union Theatre. Since then, it has been revived at numerous theatres across the UK and has also enjoyed an Australian tour. The successful show has subsequently spawned a series of other all-male Gilbert and Sullivan shows including HMS Pinafore and The Mikado, and it’s not hard to see why – it’s a concept which really works.
We were pleasantly surprised to discover how well the production suited the space. Having previously played at such lovely – but intimate – venues as the Union Theatre and Wilton’s Music Hall, we had concerns that it wouldn’t translate well in the comparatively cavernous Palace Theatre. Even with a relatively basic and sparse set – for the most part just a collection of stacked boxes – and simple but effective costumes, the company fills the stage with some excellent set-pieces.
It’s a show with a handful of wonderful moments. Whether we’re witnessing the initial arrival of the young maidens, or the imaginative use of limited props and effects to create the illusion of the pirates’ ship sailing the seas, or simply watching David McKechnie effortlessly deliver patter song ‘I am the very model of a modern Major-General’, this is a performance full of enjoyable set-pieces which really stayed with us. Additionally, we would be doing a disservice to Alan Richardson if we didn’t highlight his star turn as Mabel – the sheer strength and range of his falsetto is worth the admission price alone.
We’re aware that operetta may be an acquired taste and won’t be for everyone – but this is a very entertaining, lighthearted and accessible way to experience it. We did have some reservations that there may be moments where the humour relied on seeing men playing women but this is not the case at all – the female roles are very much presented authentically; the punchline is never that the character is a man in a dress. What we have here is a warm, enjoyable and amusing revival – one we’d gladly recommend.
GAY TIMES gives The Pirates of Penzance – 4/5
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