Pirates of Penzance Festival Theatre

Some of my usual opera chums were intending to give this one a miss as Gilbert and Sullivan doesn’t float their boat – well, they are missing a real treat. Forget all of those awful am-dram versions you have seen in the past, this is the real deal. There are no tears and tragedy here, instead you will get two hours of fun and a happy ending with some darn good singing along the way. Scottish Opera’s new co-production with The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company is faithful to the original yet still funny and relevant today. The musical satire of Gilbert and Sullivan has influenced a generation of British comedy from Flanders and Swann to the modern day.

The storyline is endearingly daft – Frederic was apprenticed to a band of pirates by mistake as a child (his nurse misheard his parents say “pilot”). He falls in love with Mabel, and vows to eradicate the pirates. However, he discovers he is bound to them by duty till his 21st birthday and, as he was born on a leap year, he will be unable to claim Mabel until he is over 80. The Slave of Duty is the opera’s alternative title and demonstrates the pitfalls of slavishly following a moral code.

It is packed full of well-known songs – the tongue twisting lyrics of I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General, A Policeman’s Lot is Not a Happy One, Come Friends Who Plough the Sea (which some may know more from its alternative lyrics of “Hail, Hail….” from the football terraces).

There is comedy aplenty, particularly from the Sergeant of Police (Graeme Broadbent) and his band of cowardly bobbies. There is also pathos, in the poignant duet between Frederic and Mabel when they discover they must part, and there is glorious singing from the principals and from the chorus, especially in the Act One finale “Hail Poetry”. And of course, there are lots of swashbuckling pirates, still as popular today as ever. What more could anyone want?

Audiences for Scottish Opera have increased by 17% in this, its 50th anniversary year. This production should add a few more to that total. I guarantee you will be whistling a tune from “Pirates” for days after you have seen it!

Irene Brownlee