Based on the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Pirates of Penzance (The Australian Version) tells the same comic tale as its classic namesake, but with more than a nod to modern day storytelling. With this in mind, Artz Productions deliver a hilarious romp of buccaneers and beauties with confidence, and showcases some of the best local talent around.
The show opens with a rousing cheer from the pirate band led by Mark Hilton as the commanding Pirate King, as they bid farewell to Frederic – a young man of 21 years, who was entrusted to them as an apprentice by his ungainly nursemaid at the age of only 8. Once free of their charge Frederic renounces his life of piracy and declares to eradicate their swashbuckling existence, but his priorities go awry when he meets Mabel: daughter of the eccentric Major General. All set to escape his outlaw past with his beautiful maiden Frederic’s delight is short lived, as the King employs one last trick to lure him back into his life of sin – a bind he cannot refuse…
Gareth Ridge as Frederic and Shelley Hilton as Mabel are a terrific partnership, with Hilton’s grace and soaring soprano and Ridge’s impressive belt and charming - but ultimately naïve - rogue making an endearing but not too sickly-sweet pair. Both got to show their comedy chops too, with playful jibes and physical nuances delivered with perfect timing, especially in numbers like the schmaltz laden ballad Poor Wand’ring One.
That being said, the two were up against some stiff competition in the entertainment stakes, as Kate Malkin, Sarah Jones and Rachel Millar as Mabel’s wayward sisters proved a force to be reckoned with; with their alternative portrayal of the General’s brood. Their wit was on-point, choreography well executed and harmonies throughout of such good quality that you wouldn’t usually expect of an amateur production. Jones in particular embraced her character – and anyone else within grabbing distance – with vigour, demanding the audience’s attention from the start.
The pirate and policeman chorus too should be commended on their commitment to the roles, as their actions on stage never stalled or looked forced. Rollicking Band of Pirates We and Cat-like Tread bought the house down and (with gentle encouragement) had the audience baying for more, and with each encore they delivered a bigger and better rendition than the last until finally – understandably – they could rollick no more.
Credit too must certainly go to the direction of Rachel Millar: the cast were undoubtedly talented, but the production as a whole was slick, well-constructed and interesting – not the easiest of achievements with G&S - and (having seen much of her work) possibly Millar’s greatest triumph to date. Pace too was kept within tight reigns by Liz Talbot’s musical direction and the odd cameo by the lady herself worked a treat, although should things have got nasty we’d not have fancied the pirate’s chances against that baton!
Special mention must go to Rob Lawton as the oddball Major General who not only delivered that song faultlessly and in perfect pitch, but whose rapport with Hilton’s Pirate King had the audience howling with laughter and totally engaged. The to-and-fro of punchline and slapstick between the pair was a joy to watch, and supported by the able cast they captured the heart of this nautical caper.
Artz took a risk with this cult adaptation of a traditional tale, but their hard work has returned a bounty with this fantastic show. Get tickets if you still can!
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