The Pirates of Penzance

Date 19th April 2016
Society Hinchley Manor Operatic Society
Venue Hampton Hill Theatre
Type of Production Gilbert and Sullivan Opera
Director John Harries-Rees
Musical Director Debbi Clarke
Choreographer Sarah Platt


Author: Jon Fox

This well loved and melodically beautiful Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera is among the most often performed of their repertoire.   A smaller than average cast, in numbers, however managed to give us a most enjoyable performance.   A generally strong principal cast with an enthusiastic, though small chorus had plenty of room on the stage of this charming theatre.

Opening with the virile pirates celebrating the end of 21 year old Frederic's indentures as a pirate by drinking "pirate sherry", the gentlemen's chorus gave a good rousing account of themselves, singing lustily.

Lisa Guerriero has the disadvantage of being rather too attractive for the plain and 47 year old Ruth, but her natural flair for acting, combined with wonderful diction, which I have noted in previous roles, together with a pure singing voice, made her an ideal choice for this splendid character.

George Lester as her protege Frederic actually looked 21, but is tall and has a certain "boyish charm", together with distinct stage presence.   George's scene with Ruth, when he finally saw young girls for the first time was powerfully played by both.    George is another who moved and sang well, with a most pleasant voice.  His stood out as a key performance.

Playing opposite him as Mabel, Lucy Moon was a young but assured and believable love interest for the handsome Frederic.    There is a lovely voice there which Lucy used well and they made a most suitable pair of lovers.   Their duet "Ah leave me not to pine" was special.

Matt Brading as the Pirate King, a pivotal role, showed plenty of attack and sang nicely in giving the character more depth than is usually played.

Alastair Lee as Samuel gave full support and also did well.   He amusingly found that "we propose to marry your daughters" required six fingers, not two!

The daughters of Major General Stanley  made a fine and charismatic ladies' chorus in pretty costumes.    Maeve Barnes as Edith was an outstanding performer with excellent comic touch and timing.   Moreover she was highly charismatic and attracted the eye whenever on stage;  her hopping was most effective and humourous.    Sophie Piedallu as Kate and Millie Swinchen Rew as Isabel gave sterling support to Maeve, as did all the ladies, though I was disappointed to hear no discernable alto line in "Climbing over Rocky Mountains" when the ladies split voices.   It was generally fine thereafter.   The pom-poms though were out of place for my taste in this most English of shows, despite being red , white and blue.

Howard Thompson, as Major General was less than perfect in the tricky patter song "I am the very Model ....", but coped well with this pivotal part despite some hesitancy early on.   The often / orphan dialogue with the Pirate king was well acted by both.    I did feel though  that appearing in his day clothes in the Act Two opening scene was a misjudgement.    Night attire, which he later wore, was needed here.                                                                           

Steve Green was a highly effective Sergeant of Police and exuded charisma.    He is another who dominates the stage.   The Police chorus, though small in number and entirely female, which was far from ideal vocally, nevertheless sang well and gave Steve full support.    There was the usual comedy in their scene when gathering their courage to fight the Pirates, and it worked well, though males rather than females would have made it funnier still.    Ah, the problems of having too few men in amateur theatre!

Sarah Platt's choreography was simple, but well planned for the small customary male chorus and worked effectively.   The ladies chorus was highly amusing, especially when first encountering Frederic and was a high spot in the show.   The pleasant theatre at Hampton Hill boasts a deceptively large stage which though a little sparse at times, afforded the company plenty of room to move freely.   Wesley Henderson-Roe's set was wisely chosen and the Act One cave on stage right looked very real as did the rocks and steps down.    I liked the Second Act set even more.   The ruined arches were outstanding and the moon effect worked well together with  well judged lighting  throughout under the care of the busy Richard Pike, who seems to light every other show I see.    This can only be a good thing!

The music and singing under Musical Director Debbi Clarke sounded good on the whole.   I merely wondered where the band actually were, as we could not see them and they were not mentioned in the programme.   I must presume that there was no band in this case, just a keyboard and recordings.    This is a pity I feel, despite cost problems for a real band.   There was also no overture and this was greatly missed as it is an integral part of the performance.   Sullivan's overtures, though some were not written entirely by him - (this one was, however) - add greatly to the evening's enjoyment.

Costumes on the whole were good.   The pirates looked a motley crew but the ladies dresses fitted well and made a good impression.    The highly experienced Director John Harries-Rees got the best from this enthusiastic company with several well planned comic moments that stood out and provided us with a most enjoyable evening when I attended on the first night.    A point regarding the programme for future occasions - NODA's aims and crest did not appear anywhere.