Regent Theatre - Pirates of Penzance
Thursday 18th October 2001
It was with some trepidation that we went along to the Regent Theatre in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, to see the "Pap" version of The Pirates of Penzance. Not because it was the Pap version but because of one of the "stars" - Sue Pollard. My only previous experience of Sue was as a comedy actress in TV programmes such a "Hi-De-Hi","You Rang M'Lord" and "Oh - Dr Beeching" - none of which I liked!! In these she played a very much over the top, scatter-brained individual. However, my fears were unfounded and, apart from one lapse into "pantomime mode" half way through act two, she took the part very well and had a good singing voice. Gary Wilmot, the other "star", was also very competent in the part.
Other parts were played by less well know actors. David Alder was a creditable Major General, Joshua Dallas was an excellent Frederic, full of enthusiasm and with a clear singing voice - if a little "nasal" at times. Karen Evans, who played Mabel, had her as a very bossy character - she certainly ruled the roost in the Stanley household! Her voice was not up to the standard which I would have expected - she tended to "screech" her high notes!
The four other daughters were very good and their small number was more than compensated for by their enthusiasm and skill.
The Sergeant, Giles Taylor, would have been more suited for a role as Sir Joseph Porter, The Lord Chancellor, or Ko-Ko. He was very small and thin and full of energy as he leapt all over the stage.
The Pirates/Police were well disciplined and enjoyed their roles and this came over to the audience.
The set was a very modern one and the change over from the "rocky shore" to the "ruined chapel" only needed a few props and lights. Below is a photo of the stage as we entered the theatre.
The production started without an overture but with two enormous explosions from the cannons - just visible above on the extreme left and right of the stage - a small pirate ship "sailed" from one side of the arch to the other. The pirates rushed on and set the tempo for the whole of the operetta. They were very colourful - the only grumble I had about the costumes at this stage was the fact that Ruth looked so clean and smart - surely after so long living with all those "ruff" pirates she would have been a little less prim? Frederic and the other pirates had much fun but it was obvious that the King was the "boss"
Ruth explained how she had confused pilot and pirate when she was sent to apprentice Frederic. Much sword play and throwing/catching swords took place and the cast were all over the stage. The pirates went off leaving Ruth and Frederic to argue about Ruth's appearance - just as Frederic was melting he heard the girls and all thoughts of marrying Ruth were discarded.
The mass entry of the four! daughters took place - they sang well and made up for the small number. Frederic crept on, hiding behind the arch - at one point one of the daughters caught a large fish which she hurled over her shoulder in disgust - it was beautifully caught by Frederic! After deciding to paddle, the girls were surprised by the appearance of Frederic, but he soon won them over - especially when he did a short Elvis impression.
Mabel came on - her cadenza's left much to be desired! She flirted well with Frederic who was instantly smitten, much to the disappointment of the other four sisters. A well thought out "How beautifully blue the sky" was followed by the entrance of the pirates with thoughts of marrying the girls! The Major General, dressed in his tropical whites, entered and saved the girls, providing us with a reasonable patter song as he did so. The MG and the Pirate King had good fun over the "Orphan" confusion and the act came to a lively close.
The second act opened to the usual scene of the ruined chapel - the MG, now in a nightshirt and dressing gown came on bemoaning the fact that he had escaped the Pirates by telling a lie - the girls tried to console him. The police were the true Keystone Cops variety - right down to the white spats. They were very good but I felt that the casting of the sergeant left much to be desired - he would have made a brilliant patter man such as Ko-Ko - but not a Sergeant of police - still he worked hard. Great fun was had trying to get the police off on their mission.
When Ruth and the Pirate King returned Ruth was in a piratical costume. Much fun and mischief took place over the paradox and then we had the low point of the performance, as far as I was concerned. We had the introduction of the song from Ruddigore, "My eyes are fully open" which on its own I could have taken but we were then plunged into the depths of Pantomime when we were asked to sing "This particularly rapid unintelligible patter............" and when there was no response!!!! a banner with the words was brought out and in true pantomime style we were split into two - each half being led by Ruth or the Pirate King. I could have done without this but it did go down well with most of the audience.
A rather poor copy of an advertising photo from the local paper
Frederic told Mabel about his problem and she agreed to wait for him until 1940. This was well performed and was very moving. We then had an unnecessary addition with "Sorry her lot" from HMS Pinafore. The plot would have not been hampered in any way by not having this song in at this point.
The police came back and had some fun with Mabel and gave us an amusing rendition of the "Felon" song. The Pirates returned - to the full volume of the electronic sound and lots of crashing around - the police hid - all at the front on one side of the stage - as the pirates sang they crawled across the stage on hands and knees - very funny! As MG came on the pirates hid and in doing so some went off stage followed by police - eventually they turned up in the stalls and crept about all over the seats and the audience. This was a problem for many in the circle who could not see what was going on - we were lucky - I had booked the seats early and we were on the front row - centre!
An excellent battle ensued with the daughters joining in and the police lost - again!! However, the pirates yielded up their weapons when a coloured image of Queen Victoria appeared in the centre of the arch. The arch now had lots of fairy lights flashing.
Eventually everything was sorted out by Ruth and the pirates put on coronets and were given the daughter's hands in marriage.
After the "curtain call", the company did a lovely version of the Police song " Go ye heroes", as the MG tried to get them all off stage - eventually succeeding to complete a delightful evening's entertainment.
This production was very good and it would have made an excellent introduction to the world of G&S for those who had not had the pleasure before and also to the many children present. For "perfectionists and traditionalists", such as we are, it still made a jolly good evening out - if it comes to your area give it a whirl?