Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Pirates of Penzance - Union Theatre, London

Pirates of Penzance
by Gilbert & Sullivan
Director: Sasha Regan
Reviewer: Leon Trayman

The Union Theatre has built itself a reputation for outstanding fringe musical theatre over the last few years, and their revival of Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic The Pirates of Penzance does not disappoint.

Directed with great flair by The Union Theatre’s founder and co-producer Sasha Regan, we are thrust into the topsy-turvy world of G&S with this wonderful all male ensemble cast. Robyn Wilson-Owen’s design makes excellent use of this versatile performance space and Regan ensures that every piece of it is used to it’s fullest. The set is minimal, except the sail-like tabs, which billow gently as the cast rush past them. Sophie Mosberger’s costumes are simple and effective, transforming the cast from chest-baring, sword-wielding pirates, to demure balletic debutantes.

I feel that a special note should go to Chris Mundy who is – to all intents and purposes – the whole band, playing the piano throughout inclusive of (by his own admission) a truncated version of the overture with great skill and dexterity. Fred Broom is certainly the very model of the Major General Stanley, and turns out a charming performance. Samuel J Holmes’ Ruth is an excellent study in how to play a woman without being overly camp or ‘feminine’, his comic timing and occasional ad lib very wonderfully timed and he sang with great feeling.

Alan Winner gives a robust performance as The Pirate King, athletically hanging from a crossbeam during one of the numbers! Russell Whitehead plays Frederic with an endearing naivety, and delivers the recitative sections beautifully. Major General Stanley’s daughters Mabel, Isabel, Kate, Edith, and Constance were played by Adam Ellis, Adam Lewis Ford, Dieter Thomas, Stewart Charlesworth ad Lee Greenaway respectively. These performances were mostly nuanced and considered performances that made me genuinely feel that I was watching a group of young ladies.

Adam Ellis (Mabel) has an incredible falsetto at times singing like a coloratura! The ‘ensemble’ members of the cast all gave great performances: Frank Simms for his ‘note’ as the policeman, Brandon Whittle for his beautiful ballet, Adam Black for his moustache-acting, Raymond Tait and Daniel Maguire for their comedy glances, and Lewis Barnshaw for this terribly camp policeman!
The thing that really makes this production – aside from the great direction, musical direction, design, and individual performances – is the choreography. Lizzi Gee has done a phenomenal job on this show. The set pieces create beautiful pictures with the bodies on stage, the rhythm of certain movements within the dance help the actors to make postural changes allied to their characters – providing uniformity within the ‘ranks’, and there is generally a sense of great energy, vitality and movement throughout; despite the relative lack of space!

Pirates runs at the Union until Sat 18th August
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