Scottish Opera has absolutely nailed it with this production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s frothy piratical romp. Anyone who is put off by memories of creaky church hall productions or the desiccated death throes of the D’Oyly Carte should cast their cynicism aside – this production is intelligent, high spirited and completely engaging.
Scottish Opera’s orchestra is on top form under John Owen Edwards, punching up every musical joke in Sullivan’s deliciously witty score. The overture is an exuberant delight and perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the evening. Frederic and Mabel’s tender duet in the second act, delicately accompanied by sensitive strings, is a particular highlight.
Stephanie Corley steals the show as a bookish, bespectacled Mabel, imbuing one of Gilbert’s most underwritten heroines with strength, imagination and pluck. She makes sense of every cadenza in her first scene as she and Frederic conduct their sweet, awkward courtship, and her voice is glorious. There isn’t a single weak link in the cast but a couple of others stand out; notably Richard Suart for his expert diction as the modern Major-General and Andrew McTaggart for his endearingly Scottish portrayal of Samuel.
Jamie Vartan’s design is sparse and effective. The simple, malleable sets give the production a storybook feel, and these pirates are definitely of the Cornish rather than Caribbean variety. Martin Lloyd-Evans’ direction resists the temptation to descend into daftness and relies instead on establishing consistent rules and conventions for the characters’ topsy-turvy world. He stays true to Gilbert’s material and doesn’t try to force the piece to be funny. Instead he simply allows the humour to flourish, and it works.
At times it teeters on the brink of being a little too energetic, running the risk of becoming hyperactive, but the whole show is so charming that it’s a minor criticism. Whether you’re looking for swashbuckling romance, witty, wordy lyrics or the music of an underrated composer performed with verve and enthusiasm, Scottish Opera has it all – don’t miss it.
Review by Jen McGregor
The Pirates of Penzance runs at the Festival Theatre until Saturday 1 June at 19.15 (Saturday matinee 14.15) Running time 2 hours 10 minutes. More information available on the Scottish Opera website.