Buxton Gilbert and Sullivan Festival 2011 (2) – New Production of Pirates is Outstanding

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance: Soloists and Chorus of the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company 7.8.2011 (RJW)

Simon Butteriss … Major General Stanley
James Cleverton … Pirate King
Alastair McCall … Samuel
Jeremy Finch … Frederic
Bruce Graham … Sergeant of the Police
Rebecca Moon … Mabel
Angela Simkin… Edith
Melanie Lodge … Kate
Theda Lehmann Isobel
Louise Crane … Ruth

Musical Direction by Timothy Henty
Directed by Gary Slavin

This new production by the Opera Company, which surpasses much of the originality of Joseph Papp’s 1980 staging, is playing for four nights during the three week Festival and should not be missed. Throughout, the musicality and clear diction was superb.

From the rousing and colourful, ‘Pour, oh pour, the pirate sherry’, a departure from the usual opening occurs where Frederic receives a birthday cake with slapstick overtones. A debonair and swashbuckling Pirate King commands with a strong presence and sings his pirate song with gusto. Ruth despite her effectively craggy appearance had a character that gives more presence and energy than is usually found in the part. She not only supports the Act 2 trio with strength but also joins the pirate chorus in ‘With cat-like tread’.

An effective touch was provided where the girls prepare to paddle by forming a row along the footlights to allow the audience to see their varying reactions to the appearance of Frederic (upstage) when singing, ‘Stop, ladies, pray’. Mabel sang her waltz song ‘Poor wandering one’ magnificently, with a noticeably secure high top to her voice and enjoyable legato. Her radiant presence was an asset to the production.

Major General Stanley often comes in a number of character forms, but for me Simon Butteriss’s version here is both believable and funny. A military gait coupled with a tinge of Charlie Chaplin was ideal and the timing in the amusing dialogue with the Pirate King was perfectly handled by both of them.

For Act 2 an eerie Ruined Chapel with fern-like gobo stage floor in mossy greens brought applause (an audience always appreciates a well dressed set). Statue-like police utilized some original well-choreographed routines while the pirates, with equally original moves, provided a hilarious balletic routine for ‘With cat-like tread’. A charming, ‘Oh leave me not to pine’ duet was well sung and displayed emotion although, unusually, with Frederic and Mabel metres apart rather than in each other’s arms.

This is an outstanding production by Gavin Slavin that should not be missed: it plays again on 20th August.

Raymond J Walker