The Pirates of Penzance @ Wilton’s Music Hall, London

cast list
Russell Whitehead, Alan Richardson,Ricky Rojas, Samuel J Holmes, Joe Maddison

directed by
Sasha Regan

This rollicking all-male production of The Pirates of Penzance surfs into Wilton’s on a wave of awards and critical praise after a sell-out stint at the Union Theatre. It’s an exuberant, engaging production that is all the more impressive given that its whole adds up to far more than the sum of its parts. For while the ensemble numbers are joyous – energetically staged and performed – none of the leads have particularly impressive voices.

As Frederic, Russell Whitehead oozes a beefy, slightly insensitive swagger that makes him look like nothing so much as a Young Tory at a fancy dress party, while as the Pirate King, Ricky Rojas oozes cheeky charisma but his voice struggles to carry. Fred Broom plays the Major General with an appealing bumptiousness, but in a number that should be a showstopper, he actually sounds fairly out of breath.

Ironically, it is the “female” lead whose vocals impress most: Alan Richardson not only plays Mabel with a real sweetness, but he nails all of the songs. Samuel J Holmes as Ruth, the abandoned maid, and Joe Maddison as the Sergeant of Police are also both strong comic performers, though again neither have standout voices.

These caveats aside, there’s no weak link in the cast: pirates, daughters and policemen all deliver rousing performances. While the youth of the cast sometimes gives the show the air of a sixth form revue at an all-boys school, this reflects the play’s theme of posh boys run riot. The all-male casting is in-keeping with the “topsy-turveydom” of Gilbert and Sullivan’s universe, and it works very well, broadening the comedy and adding a robust physicality that is often missing in mixed performances. The simplicity of Frances Jones costumes helps, also, so that while the daughters may be funny, they are never ridiculous. The one slight drawback is the lack of chemistry between the leads: one of the delights of single-sex stagings should surely be the added frisson between the romantic leads, but here it’s only right at the end of the show that you get anything approaching a spark.

The show’s staging is simply great, reinforcing a heady sense of freedom and recklessness. Choreographer Lizzi Gee and designer Robyn Wilson use the atmospheric background of Wilton’s well, with the pirates swarming across the whole space of both the stage and the theatre. Director Sasha Regan and musical director Christopher Mundy give free rein to the energy of the show, never allowing pause for breath, and the audience cant help but be swept away with the fun. So, if you want a great evening of song and laughter, let yourself be taken captive by these pirates.

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