‘The Pirates of Penzance’ was rollicking.
Reviving their 2020 swashbuckling sensation, Lynch & Paterson have once again commandeered an astounding cast and crew to set sail into their 2021 mainstage season with this comical operetta at the Twelfth Night Theatre.
The absurd voyage of ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ follows young pirate apprentice, Frederic (Jack Biggs), on his 21st birthday once his obligation to the pirate clan has ended. Upon leaving behind the band of rugged yet soft-hearted pirates and their mischievous maid, Ruth (Patricia Dearness), he stumbles across a gaggle of beautiful sisters and instantly falls in love. He plans to marry Mabel (Samantha Paterson), but his plans are thwarted when it’s revealed he was born on a leap year. This means he has served the pirates for 21 years, but not the 21 birthdays promised in his contract.
The captain of the ship himself, director Michael Nunn in collaboration with producers Lucas D. Lynch and Samantha Paterson, created a refreshing take on the Gilbert and Sullivan classic. Through Tik Tok references, a jest at Pauline Hanson and pointing out how much an ensemble member (Cameron Rollo) looked like Chris Hemsworth, this show from the 1800s was truly cannonballed into the 21st century. Due to the wacky nature of the plot, Nunn steered into this bizarre world, styling the essence of the show to have an overlay of absurdity throughout. Particular moments of commendation were when the show broke the fourth wall and made fun of itself: repeating songs and phrases to make them faster, redoing a battle scene after the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ theme music was played, or even having the Pirate King take over the conductor role! To further integrate this breaking of the fourth wall, Nunn created many immersive moments with the actors entering from the audience, dancing through the aisles and slapping their hands on the balcony.
The set by Nunn and Gary Winsen was minimal but evocative. The very back of the stage was draped in cloths like pirate ship sails. In the foreground, the first act had a large concrete wall with a rope that the pirates would swing around as if on the ship’s deck, and the second act had a bookshelf as the interior of the Major General’s home. The Cadenza Chamber Players, conducted by Lynch, performed on stage behind the actors and were a main backdrop to the production. This live orchestra created a full and vibrant sound as they led the pace for the performers; a spectacle in and of themselves. It was a delight to hear their significant overture at the start of the production, setting the tone for the operetta to follow and for them to be included alongside the actors in comical moments.
Choreography by Kamara Henricks held a strong impetus alongside the momentum of the score and created joyful and stirring energy as soon as the cast bounded on stage. Henricks also countered the fast pace of the show with slow motion in the fight scenes. There were many intricate movements woven throughout the choreography but altogether created the strong unifying presence of pirate solidarity.
A particularly lovely moment was the parasol choreography with the three sisters in ‘Climbing Over Rocky Mountain’. The sisters chasséd as a unit throughout the song and were almost sculptural when the spotlight was on them, creating definite images that filled out the stage. As Edith, Kate and Isabel, Aysa Garcia, Sophie Mason and Kayleigh Marven, respectively, were a contrasting presence to the boisterousness of the pirates and were show standouts. The trio was in perfect harmony throughout; delightfully mischievous in their upper-class snobbery and sibling rivalry. Their doting father, the Major-General played by David O’Keefe, was brimming with pomposity. O’Keefe had the challenge of singing one of the show’s most famous (and fastest) songs, ‘I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General’ and approached the tune with upper-class articulation and delightful swag. When the Pirate King reminded the audience that he had heard it performed faster, O’Keefe rose to the challenge and mastered the pace.
In the large ensemble numbers, it was refreshing to see each member of the enthusiastic band of pirates conveying a distinct character. Connor Hawkins, James Hogan, Kurt Myhill, Cameron Rollo, Clark Bryon-Moss, Jessica Burns, Lachlan Dodd and Nykita O’Keefe created versatility among the pirates and all equally attacked the choreography with gusto, individual quirk and infectious energy. Particular mention goes to Myhill’s split jumps throughout the show, executed whilst retaining pirate swagger. Hawkins as Samuel was a rough sidekick compared to the campiness of the Pirate King. Hawkins portrayed the grittier pirate life you would expect in this clan and embodied this in his physicality and cockney accent. Altogether the pirate’s harmonies were electrifying, and they provided a large jolt of adrenaline that added to this exuberant show.
As the dishevelled maid, Ruth, Dearness brought a cheeky energy – especially with Elliot Baker as the Pirate King and Biggs as Frederic in the revealing of Frederic’s unlucky birthday. Biggs was believably a naïve and hopeless romantic as the young pirate apprentice Frederic. With a gorgeous tone to his voice, he soared throughout the score and was hilarious as he tried to navigate the crazy world revolving around him. He was suitably tender in his scenes with Mabel. In the role of the diva-ish Mabel, Paterson showed exceptional skill in her soprano timbre and range. She floated through her melodic lines with ease, which Mabel clearly indulged and relished in.
Last but certainly not least, Baker exuded campiness, sass and Johnny Depp swagger through the sheer giddy joy that comes with being the Pirate King. His comedic timing was perfect and maintained an unassailable presence throughout as the lovable rogue. He had strong mastery over the tone and tempo of his voice, both sung and spoken and had the audience in the palm of his hand whenever he broke the fourth wall. Particular mention goes to his conducting the orchestra or throwing popcorn in the romantic ballad ‘Stay Frederic, Stay’ as he booed from the audience.
Costume design by Anita Sweeney was apt and cleverly contrasting. As expected, the police were in 1800s police uniforms, the pirates in their trademark stripes and bandanas, and the girls donned long skirts, each with a different pastel colour (whereas Mabel had a more intricate white dress). The sisters’ prim and starch look was a clear differentiating aesthetic from the pirates. As for the spectacle himself, the Pirate King got glitzier as the show progressed and was adorned in sequins and feathers by the end.
‘The Pirates of Penzance’ was a buoyant, rip-roaring success, and the entire team should be highly commended for navigating this euphoric show through the seven seas and back to the stage.
‘The Pirates of Penzance’ sailed away after one weekend at the Twelfth Night Theatre. For more information on Lynch & Paterson’s upcoming events, visit their website.