The Pirates of Penzance

Date 3rd March 2022
Society Knaphill & St John's Opera Group
Venue Rhoda McGaw Theatre, Woking
Type of Production G&S
Director Gloria Smith
Musical Director Richard Stockton

Report

Author: Pauline Surrey

The Pirates of Penzance was premiered in New York in 1879. It was Gilbert and Sullivan’s fifth collaboration. Obviously, this tale of a poor youth indentured by mistake to a pirate, rather than a pilot, has remained a firm favourite in the G and S repertoire ever since. It contains, of course, so many memorable songs, including ‘Oh Wand’ring One’, ‘I am the very model of a modern Major-General’, and of course the Policemen’s song: ‘A policeman’s lot is not a happy one.’ An evening of great jollity is guaranteed, and KASJOG pulled out all the stops to provide exactly that.

The well-designed programme contained a page on KASJOG’s history, a useful list of past productions, a handy glossary, a page on each of the directors, good cast profiles, a list of musical numbers and much much more. We learnt about the fact that there was no copyright agreement between the US and UK at this stage, which led to successful works being pirated and taken to the States without the permission of the authors. To avoid this, G and S put on the first production of Pirates in America. KASJOG performed the original Act 2 finale, taken from the original manuscript, held in a library in New York. So a very interesting programme indeed.

A glorious Cornish coastal scene provided the backdrop for Act 1, with suitable rocky beach. A ruined Abbey plus gravestones the set for Act 2. Props of course were many wonderful pirates’ daggers, swords and cutlasses. A stone bench proved useful in the second half. At one stage Ruth provided any number of crowbars and other burglary tools from a bag or box. Lighting was used to good effect throughout.

The maidens wore pretty dresses, and straw hats or bonnets. At a later stage some voluminous white nightgowns were worn. The Major-General wore a splendid uniform, but later also a nightgown, fetching red slippers, and a jolly night cap- did I dream this- complete with red bobble? But by far the most impressive costumes were those of the pirates and their King. Some sported long Rastafarian type beaded tresses – I couldn’t take my eyes off them, various hats and headscarves were worn, eye patches, neckerchiefs, stripy tops, waistcoats, a colourful jacket and tricorn hat for the Pirate King – they looked splendid!

The nine-piece orchestra was ably led by Musical Director Richard Stockton. The balance of sound between singers and orchestra was absolutely right. The playing was very sensitive when required, and equally flamboyant in the rousing numbers.

The Pirates bounded onto the stage, a feast for the eyes, and began to celebrate Frederic’s coming of age with a tankard full of sherry, poured by Samuel (Michael Crow). The gallant Ruth (Sue Prior) explained the reason for Frederic ending up indentured to a pirate, rather than a pilot, the original intention. Already one sensed that here was a ‘Pirates’ full of clarity of diction, as every word could be plainly understood, which of course was a delight. I later discovered that no mics were used. Not only was the diction brilliant, the great acting and comic timing which were evident in these two right from the start, continued throughout the piece with the whole cast including the chorus.

The Pirate King (Kevin Chapman) made one feel that his was a ship one would like to sail on, as he gave a splendid rendition of ‘Oh, better far to live and die.’ Frederic (Rob Richmond) was able to portray his sense of bewilderment and anger, yet tempered still with affection for his nursemaid Ruth, in ‘Oh! False one, you have deceived me.’

The chorus of maidens really made one feel they were clambering over a rocky Cornish beach, and of course it is always fun to see their shocked reaction to the appearance of a man, just as they were about to go for a paddle. Mabel (Giselle Thorne) immediately decided that Frederic was for her, and one can understand why he fell for her, with her lively personality and flashing eyes, and womanly wiles. A fine performance here.

The return of the pirates, and the maidens’ ensuing panic, and the glee of the Pirates espying so many eligible young ladies ‘Here’s a first-rate opportunity, to get married with impunity’, all was performed so well and with such gusto, it made one so glad to be a G and S fan! As did, of course, the Major-General (Keith Kimnell), with his excellent rendering of ‘I am the very model of a modern Major-General’, once again with fine comic timing.

And so this marvellous KASJOG ‘Pirates’ continued apace. Excellent acting skills, good attention to detail – among other things the policemen’s shiny shoes were greatly admired – great characterisation, good use of the stage, excellent principals, the harmonies of the chorus and principals, great comic performances, a thorough delight!

The subtitle of ‘Pirates’ is, of course, ‘The Slave of Duty’, and Rob Richmond’s acting prowess brought this sense of duty clearly to the fore. His and Mabel’s duets were finely balanced, and one sensed, due to their acting skills, that these two, so different, would make a go of it!

Of course the next highlight was the appearance of the Policemen, and their wonderful ‘When a felon’s not engaged in his employment’. These particular policemen were very ‘inclusive’, shall I say, with slightly different moves to the norm. This caused a good deal of amusement, as did the way they were quaking with fear once they realised who their adversaries were. Mark Lewis made a wonderful Sergeant of Police, bringing out every ounce of the necessary humour.

The final section of the piece, when all comes good, the Pirates yield to the policemen’s appeal to their sense of patriotic duty ‘To Queen Victoria’s name we bow’, and Ruth reveals that they are in fact all noblemen who have gone wrong, is an absolutely stunning ending to the show. We learnt that the last 4 numbers, including a reprise of the glorious ‘Hail Poetry’, represent the original version of the Finale of Act 2 as performed in New York. The sound produced by the chorus, the principals and the orchestra throughout, but especially in this section, was truly marvellous.

Gloria Smith is to be congratulated for her fine direction, the great casting, the emphasis of clarity of diction, the attention to detail, and together with Richard Stockton, allowing KASJOG’s fine chorus and principals to delight us with a very jolly and joyful Pirates of Penzance.