Penzance is probably Gilbert and Sullivan’s most famous operetta, known for its wit, convoluted plot and the famous Major General song. It is, however, a difficult one to stage, requiring a large, capable cast and limber tongues. This preview showed off the elements of the production that are going to be good, but left it near impossible to form a firm judgment since the short extracts were so removed from what will be their final setting.
The singers seem strong, particularly the Pirate King (Eugene Yamauchi). He had a clear voice and a good grasp of the lyrics, although his movement seemed a little clunky and unnatural. Conversely, Frederic (Andrew Dickinson) showed great enthusiasm in his acting but his vocals were somewhat underwhelming. In a scene in which forty-something maid Ruth (Brittany Duncan), the only woman Frederic has ever seen, tries to convince him that she is beautiful his mouth was curled into a little knowing smile perfectly highlighting the ridiculousness of his situation. His voice had moments of strength, particularly in the slower and more lilting parts of the duet with Ruth, but was strained at times.
The costumes were bright and purple and they looked like pirate costumes from a children’s party, complete with plastic swords. Though some might berate this, I consider it to be a great touch– it really adds to the silliness and fun of the piece, enhancing the witty dialogue.
The production will feature a reduced orchestra and a full-blown set – with rocks and chapel ruins promised. And, by the time the show starts, with a little verve injected into it, some finesse added to the acting and some control in the vocals, it will probably be a very enjoyable production indeed.
Pirates of Penzance plays at the Magdalen Auditorium until Saturday.