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The Pirates of Penzance

Updated: Aug 5, 2022

Gilbert and Sullivan

The National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company

Buxton Opera House

July 31, 2022 (also Royal Hall, Harrogate, August 10,21); 2 hrs 15 mins

 Matthew Siveter as the Major-General and chorus in the National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company's The Pirates of Penzance at Buxton Opera House. credit Charles Smith
The very model: Matthew Siveter as the Major-General and chorus in the National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company's The Pirates of Penzance at Buxton Opera House. All pics: Charles Smith

The Gilbert & Sullivan Festival is back at Buxton – hurrah! A full week of performances at the Opera House there precedes two weeks of continued festival in Harrogate, so there’s the best of both worlds for G&S lovers.

The diary is very much the same as it used to be in the days when Buxton had the festival to itself: a different title almost every day, with the festival’s own National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company leading the way (they’re also doing Iolanthe and Utopia Ltd, a relative rarity), plus the pick of the crop of other specialists in the Savoyard repertoire; this week that’s The Gondoliers (Forbear! Theatre), The Mikado (Peak Opera), HMS Pinafore (Opera della Luna), and Charles Court Opera with their own concoction, Express G&S, plus Patience.

The Pirates of Penzance was done with the familiar painted sets but was re-costumed for director Sarah Helsby Hughes’ fresh take on the piece. She kept the original script and music, but sent us on a kind of time-warp to the 1930s where, even if professional pirates still looked the same, Major-General Stanley’s daughters were beach belles in Act One and appeared in fluffy nighties for Act Two; while lovers Mabel and Frederic at one point transformed into Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. There was plenty of dancing by a gifted cast and chorus (choreographer Eleanor Strutt), and just a few knowing tweaks of the familiar lines and situations. I loved it, and the Opera House audience hardly ever stopped laughing.

The music was in the expert hands of John Andrews (of Red Squirrel Opera fame) and the playing, by the festival’s own National Festival Orchestra, was unimpeachable – a small but well-balanced ensemble, under a conductor who knew that getting the words across mattered most.

The principals line-up was, as ever before, a mix of new talent and experience. Stalwarts from the old days included Bruce Graham as the Sergeant of Police, Louise Crane as Ruth and James Cleverton as the Pirate King – all needing no introduction to the faithful, and completely on top of their jobs. Matthew Siveter, as the Major-General (in a kind of Boy Scout uniform, to suit the time-warp), has already made his reputation in the G&S field and proved just how with a superbly rapid I am the Very Model patter song.

RNCM-trained Aidan Edwards was an extremely strong and clear Samuel, and the three lead daughters – Catrine Kirkman, Kate Lowe and Alexandra Hazard – vamped things up delightfully. And for Frederic and Mabel we had two classy singers: David Webb’s tenor never less than noble and Emily Vine’s soprano hitting the high notes with panache.

Info and festival tickets here


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