This is the very model of a mediocre musical.
Well slightly more than mediocre – I’m just unenthused, that’s all.
It may be Mike Leigh’s debut in directing operetta, though
It offers nothing bold or new. It could have been a better show.
With story convoluted, as is Sullivan’s and Gilbert’s wont,
A lad who is apprentice to piratical terribles enfants
Has hit the age of twenty one and so from his indentures freed
Then falls in love with Mabel: cue many a mishap and misdeed.
But Alison Chitty provides design both bold and beautiful
To add big colours to this show about a pirate dutiful
Bright reds and purples, blues and greens comprise the abstract scenery
In geometric blocks and shapes – no trace of sea or greenery.
A circle intersected by diagonals persists throughout,
It’s porthole, sunset, telescope: whatever symbol you draw out.
The costume and the set design imbue it with cartoonery
As pirates, major generals and maids flaunt their buffoonery.
It’s Jonathan Lemalu’s growling, easy deep bass baritone
As Sergeant of Police, and Joshua Bloom with booming voice intoned
Who stand out most among the cast, their parts both taut and comical.
Exaggeration highlights themes satiric and ironical.
But Andrew Shore, who plays the Major General, disappoints a bit.
He never goes full tilt, though his moustache is pretty damn legit.
And humour comes as Mabel flirts by singing coloratura
To hapless Frederic (Murray), all too happy to procure her.
While modern ears may prick at such large doses of anastrophe,
The cast makes Gilbert’s witty text as quippish as it has to be.
Penzance was written just over a century and a third ago
But Leigh makes newly topical this silly and absurd old show.
The pirates turn out just to be a bunch of Peers who’ve gone to seed,
A little nudge, perhaps, to our own House of Lords in desperate need
Of big reform. Unlikely, though, with Tory stiffs in charge again.
Once more the clubs bicameral will congregate beneath Big Ben.
The Royal Baby born of late, Diana Redivivus,
Ensures that – for a while – our noble monarchs will not leave us.
The fun ends in Penzance as it reveals its full flim-flammery
With noblemen who suckle at old queen Victoria’s mammary.