‘Pirates Revisited’ at Greenside

☆☆☆☆ – A fresh take on Gilbert and Sullivan’s comedic classic.

The Opera North Youth Company’s production of ‘Pirates Revisited’ takes a renewed look at Gilbert and Sullivan’s beloved comedy. Set in the attic of an unnamed upper school, a class of teenagers are put in detention for stealing their drama teacher’s bust of Shakespeare. In scattered cardboard boxes, they find the sheet music and props from a long-ago production of ‘Pirates of Penzance’. Add a live orchestra and you have a recipe for a delightful forty-minute romp.

This show is a brilliant example of why ‘Pirates’ (originally performed in 1879) has stood the test of time. Mixing the story of the students and teacher with the original show’s best songs and gags, this production highlights its universality. The teens narrate the story, cracking jokes and performing the songs and comedic routines. Writer John Savournin’s dialogue is full of humour and heart. It succeeds in blending the main narrative and the opera itself seamlessly. Some highlights include the hopeless Freddie doubling up as the play’s protagonist Fredrick, the uptight head girl playing leading-lady Mabel and the eccentric drama teacher as the equally hilarious Modern Major General.

The attic’s boxes double as storage for costumes and props while also being used like deck for the actors to climb onto and leap over. The blocking is slick and the choreography is simple but compliments the songs very effectively. Director Emma Black uses lots of great visual gags such as people appearing out of boxes and baskets doubling up as pirate ships. The students switched between characters using small prop changes, such as switching a school tie to a bandanna as pirates, or opening old tattered parasols when playing the General’s daughters. The only slight issue with the staging is that it appeared to have been blocked with a forward-facing audience in mind, though the show was performed on a thrust stage, the result being that people sat either side of the stage had their views obstructed by the backs of the actors at times. However, the most striking thing was that the all of the actors seemed to be having fun with the songs and source material, which made it all the more enjoyable regardless of the view.

However, the show’s strongest point is the 23-member ensemble of 14-19 year olds, who gave impressive vocal performances beyond their years. Black makes sure that every member of the group is able to showcase their talents with solos distributed among most of the actors. While there were some standout performances there, they were at their most powerful when they worked as an ensemble. Be it the stunning acapella performance of ‘Hail Poetry’ or the giddy tongue-twisting ‘How Beautifully Blue The Sky’, the actors never missed a note and effortlessly performed some of the show’s most difficult harmonies. The orchestra, conducted by Nicolas Shaw, was lovely to hear and equally impressive.

‘Pirates Revisited’ offers forty minutes of stunning vocal and musical performances, paying loving homage to the original opera. It will appeal to G & S fans and newcomers alike, introducing it to a new audience of theatre goers.

1245, 7th-8thAugust Greenside at Nicolson Square

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