Reviews Opera Published 12 May 2015

The Pirates of Penzance

London Coliseum ⋄ 9th May - 4th July 2015

A review in verse.

Tim Bano

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.


Tim Bano

Tim is a freelance arts writer and theatre critic. He writes regularly for Time Out, The Stage and other publications. He is co-creator of Pursued By A Bear, Exeunt Magazine's theatre podcast.

The Pirates of Penzance Show Info

Produced by ENO

Directed by Mike Leigh

Written by Gilbert and Sullivan

Cast includes Andrew Shore, Joshua Bloom, Alexander Robin Baker, Robert Murray, Jonathan Lemalu, Claudia Boyle, Rebecca de Pont Davies



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