‘The Pirates of Penzance’ was bountiful.
Setting sail to reach the shores of Woolloongabba, Lynch & Paterson have pillaged and plundered the Princess Theatre with an almighty production of ‘The Pirates of Penzance’. A musical concert that packed plenty of swashbuckling fun, the show offered a feast of entertainment, starring some of Brisbane’s most-talented rising stars.
In this comical operetta, ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ storyline absurdly follows the life of a young pirate apprentice, named Frederic, who has come to the end of his accidental indentured period. Leaving behind a band of soft-hearted pirates and their rugged maid, Ruth, he stumbles across a bevy of beautiful maidens and falls in love. While Frederic plans to abandon the pirate life, his dreams are thwarted by the revelation that his leap-day birthday means he has only served 5 years of his contract, instead of 21.
Directed by Michael Nunn, the show moved simplistically around the two-levelled stage and provided a fresh farcical take on W.S Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s popular (and ridiculous) comedy. Set design, also by Nunn and Gary Winsen, was minimalistic, with only one large set-piece working to establish the scene. In Act 1, the large structure posed as a concrete stone wall and in Act 2, it flipped to reveal a bookshelf, resembling the insides of a home. The proscenium walls and front of the stage were further utilised to conjure additional facades and entranceways. Nunn even interrogated the fourth wall with actor placement and created many immersive moments, where characters entered via the audience, hid on the carpet in front of the stage or interacted directly with the crowd. Under Nunn’s keen eye, the theatre space was effectively embraced to the nth degree and the production was doused in comedic gold.
While the show only featured the essential set and prop items, it allowed the orchestra to stand tall as the backdrop to the production. Led by Musical Director, Lucas D. Lynch, the Cadenza Chamber Players kept pace, bouncing musically along behind the performers. It was great to see them included in the grand spectacle just as much as the players downstage – especially during tongue-in-cheek moments where the Pirate King (played by Nathan Kneen) interrupted the musicians. Lynch conducted with charisma and worked well with Sound Designer Ben Murray. The sound was full and made the orchestra feel triple in size. Lighting Designer, Luke Broomhall, sprinkled the stage in a colourful palette of LEDs, highlighting many red and blue tones synonymous of the British flag.
Choreography by Kamara Hendricks was full of heart and showcased the skill of the larger than life ensemble. The cast bounded in from the start of the show, gathering as a collective rebellion. There was also some great clowning trio work with the floozy group of sisters and apprehensive police guards. Fight Choreographer, Jason McKell, ably assembled incredible action scenes and swordfights, with slow-motion highlights and treasured anarchy.
Anita Sweeney’s Costume Design effectively dressed actors in period costumes true to their respective characters – the pale hues of the sisters’ skirts and accessories subtly distinguished them; pirates donned bandanas, horizontal and torn striped prints, gruffness and tattoos; and the Pirate King gradually became ritzier in style, with his trademark feathered pirate hat and a red-sequinned coattail for finale.
In terms of casting, Lynch & Paterson have assembled many rising theatrical stars who, not only were perfect choices in their roles but can confidently call themselves ‘triple threats’. As the Pirate King, Nathan Kneen was dashing, endearing and proud. His troublemaker personality connected well with the audience, especially as he established his giddy pleasure and glory at being “The Pirate King”. Kneen had the audience in the palm of his hand, and a comical part involving throwing popcorn and booing during the balled “Stay Frederic Stay” rightly stole the spotlight.
Jack Biggs portrayed the leading protagonist, Frederic, with believability, and aptly grasped the role’s hopeless romantic and naïve qualities. Biggs’ interactions with Ruth, played by Patricia Dearness, were exceptionally enjoyable. Their unrequited romance blossomed with hilarity, particularly during “Oh False One! You Have Deceived Me” where Ruth’s dishonest description of herself attempts to fool Frederic for his hand in marriage. Despite Dearness becoming tongue-tied in other wittier wordplay moments, her grasp on comedic timing and expressions made her a delight to watch and laugh along with.
Samantha Paterson as the beautiful Mabel showed exceptional skill and vocal melody in her operatic parts. She was innocently refined, in comparison to her overbearing sisters, and as a coloratura soprano, was entertaining when controlling Frederic’s body with her singing. As Mabel’s sisters Edith, Kate and Isabel, Belinda Ward, Sophie Price and Kayleigh Marven respectively, were show standouts and demanded much of the attention on stage. From “Climbing Over Rocky Mountains” to “How Beautifully Blue the Sky”, the trio were in perfect harmony and reflected sibling rivalry to a tee. They were delightfully mischievous, regally snooty, and portrayed a proper upper-class with adolescent nuances.
Grant Couchman played the Major-General and father of the brooding beauties with pomposity. Performing one of the musical’s most notable songs known for its dense and difficult lyrics, Couchman set flags flying with “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General”.
Connor Hawkins was also visually rough and commanding as sidekick Samuel. He revelled in the pirate life, looking completely the part, with sheer mutiny. Also, with a convincing pirate portrayal, Kurt Myhill showcased his incredible dance ability and reminded us of a young Ethan Stiefel in the making.
The remaining ensemble members – made up of James Hogan, Aysa Flynn, Clark Byron-Moss, Lachlan Dodd, Louise Hayes and Nykita O’Keeffe – held their own on stage and successfully alternated between characters to complete the tale. Their energy was infectious and built much of the magnificent atmosphere. In the hit “With Cat-Like Tread”, which is hilariously one of the loudest songs about being quiet, the group were enthusiastic, memorable and delivered the expectations of the classic.
The key creators of Lynch & Paterson, Executive Producer Lucas D. Lynch and Creative Producer Samantha Paterson, know too well how to deliver a stellar concert – a feat they have proven time and time again. Housed in the iconic venue of the Princess Theatre, the performance rose with energy, filling the theatre to its ornate rafters. Keeping their audience on their toes and invested in the drama, the creative team even seized the opportunity to poke fun at the nautical classic by adding current affair references. A jest at Scott Morrison, the Pirate King taking over the conductor’s role, and a battle scene accidentally played to the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ theme music were some glorious highlights that stood out and cannonballed the show from the 1800s into the 2020s.
‘The Pirates of Penzance’ was a show not to be missed and audiences were clearly onboard this merry adventure. Lynch & Paterson have stamped their mark on community theatre in Brisbane; fusing orchestral classics with quality professional entertainment. Grab a ticket to one of their shows as it will leave you yo-ho-ho’ing in delight.
‘The Pirates of Penzance’ played for one weekend only at the Princess Theatre, Woolloongabba. For more information on Lynch & Paterson’s upcoming events, visit their website.
Disclaimer: Cast / Production Members working on this show also work for Theatre Haus, but rest assured, we always take steps to ensure our reviews maintain their integrity and are free from bias.