The Pirates of Penzance at Stratford is nonsensical, glorious and funny, all the elements you want from a Gilbert and Sullivan romp. My daughter Alison and I saw the comic opera (still in previews) this afternoon at the Avon Theatre. It officially opens June 1.
I grew up listening to my father’s D’Oyly Carte versions on vinyl and this production ably captures all the frivolity and word play of that famous troupe. David Johnson does a wonderful rendition of the tongue-twister song, “I am the very model of a modern major-general.” Amy Wallis as Mabel has a voice so beautiful it could make you weep and Sean Arbuckle is a suitably brave but sensitive Pirate King. The only weak player is Kyle Blair as Frederic, the orphan around whom everything revolves, who appears tentative.
The staging is flawless and appropriately foolish. No digital special effects to create waves, just two men pulling on wooden boards. Need a dirigible for the major-general’s arrival? Here it is, a three-foot-long one-dimensional version traversing a painted backdrop sky.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s anti-establishment parodies used to be a staple at Stratford but they disappeared for a while. I, for one, am happy to have them back.The theatre was 95 per cent full and three more performances have already been added to the season. Looks like they have a hit on their hands.
Of course, there is no plot. There is, however, a message. Even in stiff-upper-lip Victorian times, when the choice is between duty and love, love wins. And that’s just as it should be.