Pirates of Penzance, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, May 2015Posted on 10 May 2015
On opening night the Coliseum was packed to the rafters for this new production, with the ENO already having scheduled two extra performances.
The pre-performance enthusiasm was well judged because director Mike Leigh, who made that wonderful film Topsy-Turvy about Gilbert and Sullivan, has given us a production that is fun without sentimentality or camp posturing. He retains the hard edge of Gilbert’s genius using gloriously bold colours in Alison Chitty’s excellent designs, well lit by Paul Pyant. In Act II I loved the designs for three levels of action (Girls, Pirates, Police), with the police peeping inside the rear-most circle to see what’s going on. Musical theatre at its best, with the excellent David Parry in the pit directing orchestra, singers and stage action with Francesca Jaynes’ simple and highly effective choreography.
The lightness and clarity of the overture boded well for the musical side of a production that featured the glorious bass and stage presence of Joshua Bloom as the Pirate King, and Claudia Boyle’s beautifully expressive coloratura as Mabel, the General’s daughter who falls for the Pirate Apprentice Frederic, attractively sung by tenor Robert Murray. In the role of the Major General, Andrew Shore’s aged, emotional and pepped up performance was a delight as usual, and an article in the programme gives definitions of everything that appears in his famous Act I patter song — surely few of us can be familiar with all its allusions.
Marvellous singing and stage movement from the chorus, along with fine solo performances from Alexander Robin Baker as the Pirate King’s lieutenant and Rebecca de Pont Davies as Ruth, Frederic’s erstwhile governess and piratical maid of all work. Musically fun, this optimistic take on the human condition, where things are not quite what they appear at first sight, is beautifully realised in Mike Leigh’s staging, speaking directly to our imaginations rather than being filtered through a veil of irrelevances. This production will be a keeper.
Performances continue on various dates until July 4 with a live cinema relay on May 19 and a BBC Radio 3 broadcast on June 29, both at 7:30 — for details click here.