The Pirates of Penzance

Image courtesy of Oliver Buchanan.

The Pirates of Penzance
Pleasance Theatre
Run Ended

As charming and light as the bluest of all the Seven Seas, the most recent production by Edinburgh University’s Savoy Opera Group paid brilliant homage to one of culture’s most beloved comic operas. In true Gilbert and Sullivan style, The Pirates of Penzance comprised charismatic performances, flamboyancy and immaculate enunciation, thereby executing a wonderful night of theatre.

The story of pleasant but witless Frederic’s adventure from pirate ship to high society is fraught with the playful class and gender politics which permeate the majority of the duo’s renowned oeuvre. In celebration of completing his 21st year at the service of the Pirate King, the opera’s protagonist becomes newly accustomed to the fancies of the female sex upon running into a frenzy of maidens on land. Quickly falling head-over-heels in love with the beautiful Mabel, Frederic must learn to navigate not only stormy waters, but class prejudices and expectations of thorough masculinity.

As is a customary trope of Gilbert and Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance portrayed exactly the right amount of the avant-garde in conjunction with social satire. Genuinely comic, a sentiment which may seem slightly surprising given the show’s initial performance date of 1879, EUSOG managed to wonderfully articulate each quip and punch line in enforcement of the fact that, yes, the Victorians really did have a sense of humour! From an analytical perspective, one could identify notions of nineteenth century preoccupations with patriarchy and empire as providing the true essence of the production’s affectivity, particularly during the final scene, when all crimes of heinous piracy are forgiven upon discovery that Penzance’s crew are zealous royalists.

Deploying expert comic timing, the stand-out performance must be attributed to Major-General Stanley. Allowing the unbelievably tricky lyrics of ‘I am the very model of a modern Major-General’ to glide off the tongue like a warm knife through butter, the execution of such perfect enunciation displayed the absolute professionalism of the university’s amateur cast. Special mentions also extend to the Sergeant of Police and the Pirate King, who played their parts with magnetism and conviction, and who easily drew the most laughs from the audience.

Having well understood the comic demands of Pirates, other highlights equally encompassed the stunning vocals of Mabel, alongside the beautiful harmony of the orchestra. Lulling the audience into the heart of the show during the Overture, the skilled composer and instrumentalists worked to heighten the pervasive aura of sophistication throughout.

However, one could perceive the opening of Act II to be the production’s weakest point. Feeling at times unpolished, a handful of the musical numbers lacked the necessary charisma and performative strength required. Stripped back numbers such as ‘Oh, here is love, and here is truth’ relied solely upon vocal strength and physical confidence, which did not always seem present when without props and frivolities. Nonetheless, the University’s Savoy Opera Group continues to achieve lush new heights.

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