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Review: THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, London Coliseum

It's no secret that acclaimed film director Mike Leigh has a passion for Gilbert and Sullivan; his 1999 film Topsy-Turvy was an outright celebration of them and their music. In this first revival of his version of The Pirates of Penzance, Leigh maintains and expands on that celebratory spirit in a colourful and vivacious production at the London Coliseum.

Frederic is 21 and celebrating the end of his apprenticeship as a pirate. He should have been a pilot, but his nursery maid misheard his father's instructions. He wants to leave the pirates to meet a wife, but as he was born on 29 February, he is officially only five years old, rather than 21. Add in some tender-hearted pirates, a modern Major-General and a feisty new girlfriend and you have a typically nonsensical Gilbert and Sullivan story.

The cast is generally excellent, with great comic timing and high levels of acting prowess. Lucy Schaufer is an intrepid Ruth, although her accent wanders quite far from Cornish at points. Andrew Shore (Major-General Stanley) and John Tomlinson (Sergeant of Police) are both known for more intense and serious roles, but embrace the surreal and run with it.

Ashley Riches is great as the swashbuckling Pirate King - his bass-baritone is rich and has lovely depth. David Webb plays a wonderfully innocent Frederic and Soraya Mafi is outstanding as coquettish love interest Mabel. She has a sweet but powerful soprano, which surprises with its sudden appearance, and displays impeccable timing and beautiful diction.

Alison Chitty's design will not appeal to all, appearing like a set from a children's TV programme, but her bright and abstract shapes enhance the cartoonish nature of the production.

What it may lack to the eye, it certainly makes up for with how it sounds. This production overflows with wit and warmth, enhancing all the qualities of Gilbert's sharp lyrics and Sullivan's melodic score. Conductor Gareth Jones leads an orchestra clearly enjoying every moment of their performance.

This is the kind of production the ENO must nurture and encourage; the enthusiasm and sparkling animation from the cast is infectious and makes for a production that the audience cannot help but smile at.

On a cold, dark evening, at a time when the world often seems like a gloomy and depressing place, this production has enough sparkle to brighten the gloomiest heart.

Photo Credit: Tom Bowles

The Pirates of Penzance is at London Coliseum until 25 March

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