Thursday, October 11, 2012

Canberra Theatre: Sasha Regan's Pirates of Penzance

It's a bit unfashionable to like Gilbert & Sullivan. Long out of copyright, familiar, tuneful and funny, the Savoy Operas are a mainstay of every amateur company from your local primary school to the retirement village down the road. And, as the glorious Anna Russell observes, at any given time, in any given place, someone is putting one on.

But, I frankly confess it, I adore Gilbert & Sullivan, know great swathes of the dialogue by heart, and lulled myself to sleep through many an adolescent trauma to an ancient cassette tape of the collected Overtures. They're so familiar that it's easy to forget how witty and pretty the words and music are, and to wonder if there's anything that could really make a chestnut like Pirates fresh again.

Well, brava! Sasha Regan - because she's done it, and in spades, in this quite irresistible all-male production.

Given recent events in gender politics, I wasn't sure a drag show was going to be quite the thing, and when a sole piano player (MD Michael England) started to push out some spare-sounding drawing-room chords in a venue more accustomed to orchestras, my doubts deepened.  But I was converted almost immediately: it was the perfect accompaniment to the unamplified voices of a crew of handsome young pirates, in costumes reminiscent of a gym class at an Edwardian boys' public school.

The resemblance was only emphasized when they re-emerged in white skirts and a few corsets, as the Major-General's daughters. This isn't drag, it's not even camp; it's just young men, not really pretending to be women, without wigs or makeup, playing the roles as they might at an all-boys school. It's wholly delightful, and some of the voices, in particular Alan Richardson as the coloratura Mabel, were nothing short of amazing.  Other performances of note were Joseph Houston as Ruth (uncannily like David Marr when made up as middle-aged; the image of the young Rupert Everett when not), Adam Vaughan as the Sergeant, the dashing Nic Gibney as the Pirate King.  Stewart Charlesworth, in Velma haircut and specs, was utterly convincing as Edith, the willowy Dale Page was quite mesmerising as Kate; and Matthew Gent, with his handsome face and gorgeous tenor, was a perfect Frederic.

This is a very funny, fresh and endearing production, and the Canberra audience very clearly could not have loved it more.  It's touring all over the place - in fact, some quite unexpected places - and if you can possibly get yourself to one of them, I urge you to do so. Years from now you'll still find yourself smiling when you think of it.

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