25 November 2006

Secombe Theatre, Sutton

Stephen Macvicar

Thank you very much for inviting me to Wimbledon Light Opera Society’s production of “The Pirates of Penzance” recently at the Secombe Theatre, Sutton. Thanks also to Dianne Norton for arranging my tickets.


The pirates of Penzance (a rather tender-hearted band, made up exclusively of orphans and unable to harm anyone of similar background) are celebrating Frederic’s coming of age and subsequent release from his apprenticeship to them. He joined the pirates as a child owing to a mistake by Ruth, his nursemaid, who misheard his father’s instructions to apprentice him to a pilot. She has remained with Frederic ever since and now harbours a desire to marry him. However, Frederic has met and fallen in love with Mabel whose sisters the pirates have claimed as their future brides. Their father, the General, is horrified at this prospect and declares himself to be an orphan, knowing that this will effect their immediate release.

As an ex-pirate, Frederic now feels that his duty is to society and he wastes no time in assembling a police force to capture the pirates. He is, therefore, dismayed when he learns from Ruth and the Pirate King that, due to the fact that his birthday is on 29th February and only occurs once every four years, he has in effect only had five birthdays; the terms of his apprenticeship state that he is bound to the pirates until his 21st birthday. Consequently, feeling that his loyalty is now to the pirates again, he reveals that the General is not really an orphan. The Pirate King is furious that he has been tricked and he plots to capture the General, his daughters and the policemen and take his revenge. This task proves no problem to his band of men until the Sergeant demands that they surrender in the name of Queen Victoria. This is too much for them and they yield to the request. However, as they are about to be taken into custody Ruth reveals that they are not really pirates at all, but noblemen who have gone astray. On hearing this, the General orders their release, restores them to their rightful ranks and offers them his daughters in marriage.

Another change of venue for WLOS and a production of the perennial favourite “The Pirates of Penzance” by Gilbert and Sullivan. Although with Director Stephen Roe at the helm and having read the programme notes, we knew this wasn’t going to be an entirely traditional version of this well loved classic. It was also an opportunity for WLOS to show off their undoubted vocal strength with an operetta. From the very beginning there was eccentricities. During the overture, there was a cross over to HMS Pinafore and this gave the maturer ladies chorus members lots of interesting business – dusting maids, tea party – inclusion wherever possible. Maturer cast members are often overlooked and cast to the background or fringes but thankfully not in this production. It also brought to life an overture which is always pleasant to listen to but is generally considered too long for today’s audiences. This production left the audience thinking of the untold story. General strengths in this production were the ensemble singing, the interesting sets including coastal perspective and splendid red drapes, colourful bright costumes and some notable principal performances.

With references to and snatches of songs from HMS Pinafore, WLOS needed some subtle arranging of the music. This was expertly provided by Paul Sadler. Holly Stout as Musical Director marshalled her large cast very well and the vocal standards were high. Highlights for me were; “How Beautifully Blue the Sky”, “Stay, Frederic Stay”,  “Oh False One” and the “Finale Act One”. Holly seemed entirely at ease conducting a very impressive 12-piece Orchestra. Jocelyne Wilson’s choreography was bright and enthusiastic with addition dance breaks being required from time to time. We even had dancing pirates in “With Cat Like Tread”. The Lighting plot was sufficient but nothing out of the ordinary. It was a brave decision to go without personals mics over an orchestra but with the help of rifles, floating mics and good projection, all was well.

In the principal roles we had the following performers (in programme order);

Major General Stanley – Al Clogston – Al is very comfortable on stage and with an audience. Switching to Sir Joseph Porter, etc. couldn’t have been easy but Al coped well. Almost inevitably the American twang came across in places but an entertaining romp.

Pirate King – Matt Lawson – rather youthful for a pirate king but delivered his business with decent aplomb. Pleasant enough singing voice.

Samuel – Michael Howard – Michael was steely and measured in a role which is not as easy as it seems, vocally in particular.

Frederic – David Ballard – Easily the strongest of the men, David showed a fragile, vulnerable Frederic. His open armed stance and general vocal delivery was very well received by the audience.

Sergeant of Police – Des Muller – paraded his moonwalk and generally got to terms with the slapstick approach to the part.

Mabel – Jo Cohn – Entirely excellent! Jo was ‘Carmesque’ with her delivery and playful in this leading role. Her acting was just as strong as her singing and I’d have to say she was about the best Mabel I’ve ever seen.

Edith / Kate / Isabel – Jess Davidson / Linda Pullinger / Kerrie Wenham – these are three small supporting roles but each put their own characterisation on to their respective roles. All were smiling beautifully and sang nicely.

Ruth – Sarah Tyler – Sarah’s operatic experience glistened through and her duet with Frederic was amongst the highlights.

Mrs Howard Paul – Dianne Norton – Not a conventional role but Dianne made full use of this small role and seemed to be enjoying herself thoroughly.

Tilly La Rose – Linda Pullinger – Linda threw herself into this slightly seedier role than either of her other incarnations, Kate or Mrs Molloy

The chorus in a G&S production is heavily used throughout the evening. The ladies were dressed as suffragettes which was a nice touch and they were all coquettish in the Finale of Act One. The ladies nicely parodied the policemen in Act Two. There was plenty of men on show, the envy of many local societies. Plenty enough to split between pirates and policemen in Act Two. They could have been more butch as pirates and reacted more, especially during Ruth’s song. They were generally standing in semi-circles rather than groups but these are minor points in what was an enjoyable evening’s entertainment. The policemen were comical and at times gave the impressions of waxwork dolls.

I very much enjoyed your thorough and informative programme. Also nice to include other society productions, hopefully in turn they will do the same.

Once again thank you for inviting me to the Secombe Theatre and best wishes for your next production “Anything Goes”. Best wishes also for Janet Huckle.

I looking forward to seeing you again soon and if I can be of any assistance at any time, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Please note my change of address details.

Kindest Regards

Stephen Macvicar


London Region 3

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