United Kingdom Gilbert & Sullivan, Pirates of Penzance: Youth Production/Rosamond Savournin (conductor), John Savournin (director); Buxton Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, Pavilion Theatre, Buxton, 3.8.2013 (RJW)
Cast: Henry Smith … Major General Stanley Matthew Siveter … Pirate King Charlie Hodgkinson … Samuel Nathaniel Forsyth … Frederic Patrick Swain … Sergeant of the Police Virginia Kerr … Mabel Lissy Fothergill … Edith Katie Bird … Kate Emma Swain … Isobel Hannah Carter … Ruth Choreographer Holly Strawson
It is always good to see youngsters enjoying themelves in a make-believe situation that exudes enthusiasm. The talented principals were aged between 9 and 19 and magically held the audience’s attention with their incredible stage confidence and well-rehearsed routines.
The seven principals were all very good singers, could project their voices well and had taken the trouble to understand the characters they played. Of course much of this depends on the good production leadership of John Savournin, Ros Savournin and Holly Strawson. The good character portrayals brought about meaningful interaction during dialogue and movement.
The show was stolen by the antics and brilliant singing of young Samuel (Charlie Hodgkinson) whom I could see as a fantastic Artful Dodger. Gilbert wrote this non-descript colourless part to be a spokesman for the pirate band and to add another voice in ensemble harmony. But in this production the role of Samuel is given purpose and a dimension of strength. A confident and accurate singer, especially when harmonising in “See at our feet they kneel” (whilst sung held in the arms of the Pirate King), young Charlie was given additional routines of organising people twice his height that lifted enjoyment of the stage action.
The formidable strength of Matt Siveter’s Pirate King with his powerfully resonant baritone voice and convincing characterisation kept the energetic pace flowing. Henry Smith, a veteran of the Buxton youth productions, made a characterful General Stanley and gave a rousing performance of his superbly articulated patter song where the missing’Gee’ had to be whispered to him by Samuel. The audience liked General Stanley’s interaction with the pirates. (I noticed he was wearing a row of medals probably awarded by Noda rather than military achievements). At times with a sense of amusing bewilderment I could see a Major Bloodnok (from the Goon Show) in him.
Frederic and Mabel, were both excellent and carried much of the show with their confident partnership. From the moment of her entrance, Mabel (Virginia Kerr) took over the stage with her delightfully sung, “Poor wandering one” and acted sensitively during her interaction with Frederic. She stood up well to the bumbling police and provided clearly audible top notes in the finales. Nathaniel Forsyth fitted the part of Frederic like a glove and was one of the best portrayals of this part I have seen for a while. He was deep-thinking, considerate and his velvety toned singing with well-rounded vowels and clear diction was a delight. There were times when I forgot that these key parts were being played by teenagers for they would have coped well with the demands of any adult stage production: credit must thertefore go to those who trained them for their stage presence and singing. A determined Ruth with pleasant voice delivered a clearly heard account of her mix-up of Pilot with Pilate. She stood up well to her forced separation from Frederic. The Sergeant of the Police held his motley and nervy Boys in Blue in good check.
Dancing routines were right for this age group, were thoroughly rehearsed and looked well: all participated with vigour and enthusiasm, even down to the youngest. The Pavilion acoustics can be unkind to musicians: there were times when the reduced orchestration was heavy, particularly when the wind section is only providing decoration to a vocal melody as in the lovely opening to Act II. The keyboard was well played throughout and as substitute for the strings worked well, I thought. With performances like this the tradition of G&S in the next generation will not be lost.
Raymond J Walker