REVIEW: The Pirates of Penzance at Cambridge Arts Theatre

The Pirates of Penzance is performed at Cambridge Arts Theatre from June 9-13 by an all-male cast.

The Pirates of Penzance is performed at Cambridge Arts Theatre from June 9-13 by an all-male cast. - Credit: Archant

Sasha Regan’s All Male Pirates of Penzance at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, June 13. Review by ANGELA SINGER.

Oh rapture! This show is stupendous. Both the singing and the acting performances are sublime and a privilege to see. Storm it and stump it, it’s stonkingly good.

In some ways, it’s pared down. There is no orchestra. The voices are accompanied by a single piano, a virtuoso performance by musical director David Griffiths. The set is simple but it is rich in humour, creativity, choreography and talent.

The Pirates of Penzance, Gilbert and Sullivan’s fifth comic opera, opened in London in April 1880, after three months sensational success in New York and ran for 363 performances. It was hardly off the stage for the next 100 years. This current production opened in the tiny, 50-seater, Unity Theatre in London in 2009 for a four-week run. It transferred to Wilton’s Music Hall, the oldest music hall in the world and broke the theatre’s box office records. It then toured Australia.

Like all the Savoy operas, the plot is a simple satire on Victorian manners. Our hero, Frederick (the excellent Samuel Nunn) has been apprenticed as a boy to pirates because his nurse, Ruth is hard of hearing and misunderstood the instruction that he should have a career as a pilot. As she laments, the words are very similar.

Now he has reached 21, he is free to leave the pirates and lead a decent life and marry the beautiful Mabel. That is until Ruth reveals that he was born on February 29 and his indentures say he can leave, not when he is aged 21 but when he has had 21 birthdays. Sadly, he and Mabel calculate that they cannot marry until 1940.

Of course, it’s all resolved in the end but not before some wonderful choruses, including the patter song, The Model of a Modern Major General and A Policeman’s Lot is not a Happy one, led by James Waud as the Sergeant of Police. This is danced and sung with deep, gorgeous manliness by the team we have just seen tripping around in delicate falsetto as slips of girls.

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Everyone is exemplary but I particularly loved Alex Weatherhill as Ruth. He has wonderful comic warmth and Alan Richardson as the well observed and exquisitely sung Mabel. Plaudits too, to Miles Western as the masterful Major General.

This is a wonderful, vibrant show. The audience’s lot is a very happy one.