Pirates of Penzance, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2017

What a pleasure to welcome back Mike Leigh’s Pirates, which played to packed houses on its first run two years ago.

All images ENO/ Tom Bowles

Leigh, the director of that 1999 film Topsy-Turvy about Gilbert and Sullivan’s collaboration, retains the hard edge of Gilbert’s genius while not stinting on the colour. Indeed the bold colours and central circle of Alison Chitty’s designs giving unsentimental clarity to this quintessentially British extravagance. Just the ticket for a cold evening in late winter with its final rousing chorus of Take heart, fair days will shine.

Major General and daughters

As Major General Stanley, Andrew Shore reprises the brilliant comic timing of his performances in the opening run, and I recommend the article in the programme about his famous patter song. How many of us truly know all of the allusions it contains? As the Pirate King, baritone Ashley Riches cut an imposing figure, more than a head taller than the engaging Lucy Schaufer as Ruth the piratical Maid of all work and Soraya Mafi as Mabel, who showed fine stage movement and coloratura. As Frederic their beloved pirate apprentice, David Webb exhibited an attractive tenor of sad sincerity, and as a well-padded Sergeant of Police, John Tomlinson provided luxury casting. His resonant bass and the musicality of his movements raised the game for the entire police chorus, and the rendering of A Policeman’s Lot was sheer delight.

Excellent choral work too from the beautifully clad Major General’s daughters. I love the costumes, I love the peeping of the hidden policemen within the large circular opening when pirates and ladies are on stage in Act II, and I love the portrait of Queen Victoria that appears within that circle, so aptly chosen from the time of the London premiere in 1880.

Pirate King, Frederic and Ruth

Well judged conducting by Gareth Jones provided plenty of bounce and jollity, and Sarah Tipple’s revival of Mike Leigh’s production gives a heady dose of optimism that cuts through the cares of contemporary events. A welcome breath of fresh air for us all.

Performances continue on varus dates until March 25 — for details click here.

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