The Pirates Of Penzance

Published April 17, 2008

If there was a list of ideal places to stage The Pirates Of Penzance, a replica galleon would probably be fairly near the top, possibly just underneath a desert island complete with a large X to mark the spot. Ocean Theatre Company has achieved just that – the galleon, not the desert island – and currently performing Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera aboard The Golden Hinde, the replica of Sir Francis Drake’s own ship. Matthew Amer dusted off his sea legs for the first night…

Should you ever meet a pirate, pray he comes from Penzance, for the buccaneers of Gilbert and Sullivan’s imagination are less blood-thirsty hoodlums intent on raping, pillaging and generally nefarious activities, and more mild-mannered boat-lovers who occasionally steal but always say please and thank you.

Young Frederick is apprenticed to this merry band, though at the turn of his 21st birthday he leaves his mildly evil life behind and sets out to bring down his former colleagues. He also falls in love with the daughter of a Major General – who happens to have a number of sisters that the pirates quite like the look of. Of course, the pirates don’t take kindly to Fred’s change of heart and try to stop him.

To call the venue intimate may do it a disservice. With the audience sitting on both sides of the galleon and on deck for the first half, pirates, girls and modern Major Generals climb among and about the theatregoers. Andrew Miller’s direction makes the most of the circumstances, drawing the audience into the performance as the actors directly interact with them. Neither the pirates nor the feisty sisters remain quiet during songs – and why would they? – instead they mutter and banter with each other and the audience.

The show’s second half moves the action onto the wonderfully musty and dank lower deck, which comes complete with ropes, beams, barrels and chests. Comically timid policemen – think harmonising Keystone cops – and those polite pirates, this time with murder in mind, hide behind props, audience members and their hands as they go about their business in the smallest of performance spaces.

Among the performers, Luke Tudball is a cocky, bold and brash Pirate King, Garry Bailey a sufficiently doddery Major General and Emma Clare a predatory Mabel, with the cast’s outstanding voice.

Set partially in the open air, the actors have to battle with the elements – with last night’s rain creating a sea mist effect – and the sounds of nearby revellers, but the spirit of the performance makes this Pirates Of Penzance a timber-shivering, parrot-fancying romp… and there’s not a peg leg in sight.

MA