first night

The Pirates of Penzance

The cast rescue a show close to drowning in its own ambition. Matthew Plampton reviews...

 DULOG set themselves no easy task this week, by not only taking on the work of iconic theatre partnership Gilbert and Sullivan, but also one of their most well known operettas, barring perhaps The Mikado and HMS Pinafore, in the form of The Pirates of Penzance. Their production certainly went some way to capturing the humorous text along with the delicate and elaborate music.

On the whole the cast was very strong. Special mention must be made to the two female leads, as well as Doug Gibbs, who certainly stole the show with their excellent performances. Elissa Churchill as Mabel was an absolute delight to watch, as she managed to capture the true essence of Gilbert and Sullivan’s work. Her wonderfully expressive face, strong stage presence and comedic timing coupled with a strong vocal definitely provided a memorable performance. Rozi Prekop as Ruth was similarly a joy to watch: her amusingly desperate performance during ‘Oh! False One, you have Deceived Me’ was one of the highlights of the production.

Doug Gibbs as the Major-General certainly had the toughest task, taking on the iconic musical number of ‘I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General’. To say he performed this excellently would not do him justice, as the audience were filled with tears of laugher due to his use of Durham University cultural references throughout the song.

Alex Wingfield as Frederic effortlessly delivered an excellent vocal performance. What did let him down was a lack of commanding stage presence and animated facial expressions: when on stage with Elissa Churchill as Mabel he was rather dwarfed. Jamie Woollard as the Sergeant of Police is also a great singer, and his deadpan expression created many hilarious moments. He was however, let down by the choreographed chorus moments where it was clear he wasn’t comfortable with the dance movements.

Leo Morrell as the Pirate King was something of a disappointment. He did provide a very good vocal, yet his performance failed to reach true comedic heights and crossed the line from being amusing to trying too hard and being overly false. Similar comments could be made about Andrew Savill as Samuel, who was somewhat lost and overshadowed by the other stronger cast performances.

Again high praise must be given to both the female and male choruses who definitely added tremendously to the overall production. The male chorus, who portrayed the Pirates and Police, combined well to deliver a strong vocal performance and many comical moments. The same can be said for the female chorus whose highlight was their exaggerated frozen reaction to hearing the men were in fact pirates, which filled the audience with laughter. Some critique could be made of the choreography: although very ambitious and potentially excellent, it seemed rather under rehearsed and muddled in places with some of the performers lacking sharpness in their moves. A bit more attention could have also been paid to the male chorus costumes, as some of them seemed a bit out of place in this traditional production.

Final praise must be given to the orchestra and their conductor Seth Miall. It too was well performed and complemented the singing excellently.

DULOG can definitely be satisfied that their production of The Pirates of Penzance created many comic moments for the audience. With more rehearsal of the choreography and closer attention to detail on some of the cast’s performances this could have been an outstanding production. Nevertheless, this is still an enjoyable production to watch and I was left feeling satisfied that they had gone some way to capturing the excellence of Gilbert and Sullivan’s work.

* * *

Matthew Plampton

24 November 2011

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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