The Pirates of Penzance

Wed 23rd – Sat 26th November 2011

reviews

Florence Strickland

at 10:05 on 24th Nov 2011

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My only previous contact with The Pirates of Penzance was a production at The New Wimbledon theatre when I was about eight, which led to confusion, boredom and excessive consumption of Wine Gums. However it is a testament to the direction, choreography and the enormous vocal talent developed by Musical Director Seth Miall – who also kept the orchestra merrily tripping over the score - that in only six weeks this DULOG production had the audience constantly bursting into raucous laughter as this comic opera and its absurd plot unfolded. Elements of the ridiculous, such as leap year birthdays resulting in a sixty three year service on a pirate ship, and a seventeen year old ingénue aligned with a forty-seven year old woman ensured a riotous performance with an extensive array of equally effective subtle and overt humour.

It was a triumph of the cast and director, Julia Loveless, that the characterisations of not only the individuals but also the ensembles were well developed. The intentionally imbecilic chorus of pirates with the odd smattering of a Movember moustache added to their endearing nature. Perhaps even a political point was made when some of these boisterous orphan pirates switched to being downtrodden policemen in the second act. A particular moment when flowers were used to conceal the intruding pirates, as the General hopped about in his nightcap is just one of many that are a testament to Julia Loveless. When movements were also in time with the music, an especial unity was ensured with the cast, musicians and audience for maximum comedic effect. The pirate chorus’ performance was much aided with a witty performance from Rozi Prekop as Ruth in the first act, with all the best elements of a pantomime.

The ensemble of policemen was equally well managed choreographically by Emma Cave. One of the most familiar numbers, ‘When a felon’s not engaged in his employment’, was as absurdly entertaining as the plot – this brilliant choreography’s movement perhaps only inhibited by the incongruous placing of a box on stage. After only remembering the melody from intrepid trombone players at school concerts, the song was brought to life, punctuated with assertions from Jamie Woolard as Sergeant of Police, which again ensured the audience’s complete engagement and delight with the performance. The successful choreography was even carried down to the final bows, when policemen interspersed with pirates used their hats to bow before the finale– rather than suddenly switching out of character, as in so many plays, the energy was continued until the very final swing of the curtain. An especial triumph in my opinion was the chorus of sisters. Nat Goodwin’s evident mature and experienced style rallied them on. The characterisation of this ensemble was more individualised especially with the sunglasses used in ‘How Beautifully blue the sky’ in contrast to the parody of their Victorian modesty only added to building laughter from the audience.

The melodrama of Gilbert and Sullivan most prominently manifested itself in the stock characters. Leo Morrell’s bravado and panache as the well-spoken (and sung) Pirate King ensured a particularly successful word play on orphan/often in a later confrontation with the General – in one of the more overt elements of Victorian humour.

Elissa Churchill as Mabel often musically dominated the stage with her part allowing her to make full use of her striking range, especially in, ‘Poor wand’ring one’, in act one. Alex Wingfield’s part, Frederic was more sober and yet he maintained a secure and convincing performance as the lead.

Especial praise should go to Doug Gibbs as Major-General whose rendition of ‘I am the very model of a modern major-general’ had the audience howling, particularly as it was brought right up to date with the addition of a Durham-filled digression. His asides to the rest of the cast and even the orchestra maintained the unity first seen by the pirate ensemble at the beginning. This culminated in an intermingling of the entire cast with the swapping of hats and swords at the height of the madness in the explosive finale.

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Patrick John Callaghan-Pace

at 10:45 on 24th Nov 2011

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DULOG have done it again. A cracking performance by a team who clearly know exactly what they are doing. With moments of utter professionalism, at times it’s easy to forget you are watching a play created and acted solely by students.

The vocals of this play can only be described as sublime. The cast as a whole is an extremely talented group of vocalists excelling individually as well as winning over the audience with pitch perfect harmonies. Between Julia Loveless (director) and Seth Miall (musical director) the actors were cast perfectly. The lead female voice, Elissa Churchill (Mabel) sung as beautifully as her character was vain (very). Her voice blew away the audience, hitting notes that escape even the most talented of singers. Her partner in crime, Alex Wingfield (Frederic) produced an equally impressive display of talent, played the innocent lover spying a group of ‘sweet maidens’ for the first time.

The ladies’ chorus arguably outshone the boys, but it was not without stiff competition. Whilst I hesitate to single out anyone else, a special mention must be made to two other members of the cast that were particularly memorable.

Nat Goodwin (Edith) - her voice in scene two stood out delightfully amongst the girls especially as she shone in her short but striking solo! On the boys side it was Andrew Savill who acted consistently well, timed his lines perfectly and sung with an unexpectedly powerful voice.

Doug Gibbs and Rozi Prekop stole the comic spotlight as the Major-General and Ruth. Doug’s interpretation of the Major-General was superb, displayed thorough dedication as well as some serious line learning. Furthermore, the addition of an extra two verses to, ‘I am the very model of a modern major-general’, based on University life in Durham was brilliant, adding a ‘modern’ spin! Rozi plays a desperate cradle snatcher (almost literally) who fights to keep Frederic, her 21-year-old lover. – Some terrific acting as a woman gone to seed, yet the audience looks upon her fondly as one of those ladies who ‘used to be quite the charmer…’

Whilst the set design and props were about as subtle as a brick (there was actually a brick-like object on stage during most scenes) it was effective in that it detracted nothing from the quality of acting and provided a simple means of letting the audience know that they had moved from Act I to Act II.

A shout out to Emma Cave, whose choreography coupled with Julia’s blocking had moments of pure genius. Two scenes in particular spring to mind: The ladies clever movements in ‘How beautifully blue the sky’ and the bumbling policeman’s dance during ‘When a felon’s not engaged in his employment’. Yes, at moments the choreography was slightly awkward and could have used some tightening up. For example when the full cast was unable to manoeuvre themselves around each other in the penultimate scene. However, in light of space constraints it was a job considerably well done!

Costumes were simple yet effective, white dresses for the girls, with pink sashes for the eight daughters, and a green one for Mabel. The Pirates were dressed as, well, pirates! Whilst lacking slightly in imagination was most definitely operational. Some of the ridiculous combinations of much too short velvet trousers and ridiculous stripy socks (as with the King of Pirates) only added to the comic effect of the play.

The lighting was overall quite good. Setting the mood most noticeably with a blue wash over the parting scene between Frederic and Mabel. However, at times the lights noticeably changed a few seconds after they were supposed to – all highly permissible mistakes especially for a first night performance.

All in all, a most professional performance on behalf of the Actors and Directors and one that was extremely well received by the audience. I highly recommend this play if you’re in want of a grand evening out.

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Comments

Danny Coleman-Cooke; 25th Nov 2011; 23:20:06

Went to see this tonight and agree that it was excellent. Don't have a programme to hand so can't give names but the girl who played Mabel had a fantastic stage presence, a wonderful vocal register and a very expressive face (which always helps with G & S!); I'm sure she has a lot of great roles and performances ahead of her. Excellent performances as well from the Major General (who was even more bumbling than when he was Franz in The Producers) and the girl who played Edith- her vocal range was really impressive and kept the excellent female chorus together. Although there wasn't really a stand out performer from the pirates, they all put in good performances, especially early on in the first act. There were some nice directorial flourishes as well, and the Durham re-writing of 'Major General' was funny rather than forced.

If I had to be critical (which isn't easy in this production) some of the choreography lost a bit of its energy from having such a small stage- maybe reducing the choruses slightly may have helped this. 'When a felon's not engaged in his employment' is ideally supposed to be a limbs-flailing-stage-hopping number (see the Tony Azito version on YouTube for a wonderful example)- the lack of space and movement sometimes meant that the cast, especially the male chorus, looked (understandably) restrained and self-concious in their movements.

As for the other cogs in the machine, the musical accompaniment was superb, the costumes were fantastic (although had denim been invented in 1880?!) and the staging was decent, if unspectacular. I never fail to be impressed with the breadth of talent within DULOG and last night was no exception- well done everyone!

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