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BWW Reviews: SASHA REGAN'S ALL-MALE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, Richmond Theatre, April 15 2015

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Pirates Is Back exclaims the website and back they are, as teeth-baringly hostile as ever - until their hearts melt at the mention of an orphan of course. This is no ordinary Pirates though - it's Sasha Regan's All-Male Pirates of Penzance, falsetto and falsies to the fore!

I had last seen the show in 2012 at the Hackney Empire so I knew what to expect - though that hardly diminishes the impact of the muscly boys in dresses walking through the auditorium before arriving at the cove for Frederic's fateful meeting with Mabel. Camp is played up to great comic effect, but Regan knows her way round these all-male shows and she keeps the singing and the plot front and centre, ensuring that the comedy (and there's plenty) emerges from William Gilbert's wit and wisdom rather than the drag, fun though it is.

The story is a typically topsy-turvy affair - Frederic (Tony Hadley lookalike Samuel Nunn) has been apprenticed until his 21st birthday to a Pirate King (Neil Moores stopping just short of a "Yo-Ho-Ho" or two) after a mix-up and the virile young man has never met a girl, until Mabel (Alan Richardson in splendid form) walks into his life. Soon she and her sisters are cavorting with the pirates - but what will their father (Miles Western, the Modern Major-General) think?

With just David Griffiths' wonderful piano playing to accompany the cast, much depends on the acting filling a large auditorium while retaining the intimate feel of a boutique opera - pulling off the trick of making a raised eyebrow fully visible, but not pantomimed to the audience, is no easy matter. Fortunately, Alex Weatherhill as Ruth, Frederic's ageing lovelorn nursery nurse, sets the tone in the opening scenes with super comic timing - the audience laugh and relax and we're off.

And the laughs keep coming from the celebrated setpieces (the Major-General's patter song, the cowardly police hiding behind some extraordinary moustaches) and the endlessly satirised English sense of propriety, the staple Gilbert and Sullivan theme.

Ultimately, for all the high jinx (and my 14-year-old son, at his first G&S show, loved it, especially the songs he recognised from The Simpsons and Family Guy) what endures is Arthur Sullivan's music, the timeless tunes cascading through 136 years, the melodies as engaging as ever.

For once, the cliche is true - what's not to like?

Sasha Regan's All Male Pirates of Penzance is at Richmond Theatre until 18 April and on tour.

You can read my interview with Sasha Regan here.

Photo Kay Young.


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