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BWW Reviews: THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, Bristol Hippodrome, June 18 2013

Having only ever seen an amateur production of a Gilbert and Sullivan piece, I was very much looking forward to seeing The Scottish Opera and D'Oyly Carte production at the Bristol Hippodrome. As I sat down in my seat in what appeared to be a pretty full house, I relaxed as I listened to the ambient noises of rolling waves and squawking seagulls emanating from the stage.

I love absorbing the buzz in the theatre as the orchestra begins the overture, and the accomplished musicians of the Orchestra of Scottish Opera, with conductor Derek Clark at the helm, did not disappoint in their delivery. In addition, the early introduction of some 'vertically staged' silliness during the piece was well used as an opportunity to introduce the audience to the general absurdity, and creative set use, that was to come.

There is perhaps no other way to describe The Pirates of Penzance than tongue-in-cheek and utterly but gleefully ridiculous. The story of a lad doomed to a life of piracy as a result of a misunderstanding, contractual technicalities and a strong sense of duty, coupled with a gang of swashbucklers, a gaggle of giggling girls and a team of cowardly bobbies is bound to be nothing short of comical.

In this production, the set was rather basic, but it was creatively used and successfully added to the hilarity of the evening, accentuating the sublimely absurd aspects of this Gilbert and Sullivan comedy.

At yesterday evening's performance, the role of Frederic was played by Nicholas Sharratt. One couldn't help but be charmed by his boyish, slightly starry-eyed nature, particularly when coupled with his character's awkwardness and staunch belief in honouring his duty. Sharratt suited the role well, demonstrating a solid comedic quality in his line delivery, although he was at times overshadowed by his leading lady.

The strong-willed and somewhat geeky Mabel was played by Rebecca Bottone, who has recently completed the Opera course at the Royal Academy of Music in London. I thoroughly enjoyed her performance, and feel she is one to watch for the future - her remarkable vocal control was matched only by the ease at which she switched from brilliantly amusing to innocently heartfelt during her romantic duet.

Richard Stuart, as Mabel's father Major-General Stanley, gave an impressive display during the well-known tongue-twisting number 'I am the very model of a modern Major-General', but special mention must go to the rather eccentric Sergeant of Police, played by Graeme Broadbent, and his comical physicality.

Individually, the motley crew of pirates perhaps lacked a bit of gusto and menace, but the company appeared to gel well, with the group numbers being particularly rousing. There are occasions when someone in a small role really grabs your attention, for whatever reason, and one such stand-out performance in the company for me was Katie Grosset as Edith, one of Mabel's many sisters.

As a frequenter of musical theatre performances, which I adore, I have to say it was wonderfully refreshing to hear a truly live performance without the use of microphones, although the vocals of some cast members were, on occasion, lost in the swell of the orchestra.

The pace of the second act seemed somewhat slower than the first, but that was purely down to the writing, rather than the energy or talent of the cast, who worked extremely well together and appeared to be enjoying the performance as much as the highly receptive audience was.

All in all, if you are expecting a dazzle of glitzy costumes, loud music and complex dance routines, then this isn't the show for you, but if, like me, you enjoy a bit of ridiculous escapism and wish to leave the theatre with a smile on your face, then The Pirates of Penzance ticks every box.

The Pirates of Penzance is playing at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 22nd June. For more information or to book your tickets, click here.



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