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February 17 2020, News

The Pirates of Penzance

Clevedon Gilbert & Sullivan Society

The Princes Hall,


Wednesday 12th February

In this modern age, Gilbert and Sullivan seem to polarise opinion: folks appear to appreciate their witty, tuneful output with huge enthusiasm or simply dismiss it as lightweight, dated and irrelevant (often without having actually watched a good quality production). I must confess to having fallen into the latter category, having watched very few decent productions of G&S, save the unusual Hot Mikado. Thus, in a very busy week I was not particularly relishing the prospect of attending Clevedon G&S Society’s Pirates. This is a society new to the David Beach competition and one who’s output I have never seen: big mistake! I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at the Princes Hall, being richly entertained and reflecting on the enormous influence Arthur and William Schwenck have had on the musical theatre genre. I wonder if, without the inspiration of the two Victorian geniuses, Time Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber or Alain Boubil and Claude Michel Schoenburg or even the venerable Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein could have had their fabulous successes.

Dave Nicklen and Kate Bright’s design for this production was pleasingly simple: Act I featured a bright back-projection of a Cornish coastal scene, enhanced with a ‘cave’, stage right. Lighting, care of Andy Hughes of Red Boat Lighting was attractive and professional in appearance, despite Andy’s absolute amateur status, adding substantially to the ‘feel’ of the production. Act II saw a change of projection and change to the ‘cave’, equally attractively lit to, again enhance the mood of the piece. The simplicity of the design worked very well to enable the smooth and well-paced flow or the production.

Costume, care of Wardrobe Mistress Anne Barrett and helpers, looked good too: From the slightly shabby Pirates to the nicely eccentric Major General and from the Policemen to the serried ranks of the Major-General’s daughters, all were attractive and easy on the eye.

The nine-piece orchestra under the baton of Musical Director Kevin Joint worked as a tight unit, supporting the singing with sensitivity and quality, adding some nice, attention-to-detail moments like the cheeky interpolation of Marvin Hamlisch’s One into With Cat Like Tread (I’m never too sure about G&S song titles).

I did wonder if the current crop of colds and ‘flu had effected quite a few of the cast as several singing voices sounded a little strained but the principals worked well: Dan Mullholland as Frederic sang pleasantly and gave The Slave of Duty a slightly down-trodden air whilst maintaining the honesty that marks him out; Christine Richards as Ruth played her part with charm and fun; Glynis Barcham was able to show off a remarkable singing voice as Mabel; Dave Robinson as the Sergeant of Police was distinctive and managed a great ‘twinkle’ in his eye; Dave Nicklin entertained as The Major General – his self-penned additional lyrics were very funny but for me, the standout performance of the evening was Mark Beardmore as a splendid, confident, strutting, golden-voiced and very funny Pirate King.

 The Choruses and supporting players played their parts very effectively too: The Ladies chorus were suitably feminine, to turn the Pirates’ heads and the Police were suitably incompetent. Singing was of a good order, although perhaps the ladies’ co-ordination and synchronisation might have benefitted from them keeping a closer eye on the Musical Director.

The star of the show, for me at least was the brilliantly witty libretto – funny, clever and full of satirical gems. Having said that, it would have been a very dry evening without the Clevedon team’s enthusiastic and attractive presentation! Kate Bright’s direction was tidy and well-paced: a sure hand on the tiller and not afraid to make the occasional well-judged ‘addition’.

So, a perfect show? Well, nearly! There were a few timing issues and one or two tuning issues and, it is always an awkward subject, particularly for local amateur groups but the age-appropriateness of a few characters might be considered an ‘issue’: Frederic should be twenty-one and Mabel should be about twenty. In the real world however, utilising the talent within a society is far more important than being a slave to accuracy and the quality of the performers largely overcame this niggling detail.

I thoroughly enjoyed my evening with Clevedon Gilbert and Sullivan Society and look forward to watching many productions in the future: keep the G&S faith alive!

Thanks for inviting me