For an evening of nonsensical entertainment you could do a lot worse than go to see the Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society performance of The Pirates of Penzance. The ‘Pirates’ will be familiar to many, whether from the wonderful D’Oyly Carte productions or from school productions with casts of thousands. The story is so silly that one has to suspend belief in the narrative and appreciate the skill of Gilbert in weaving the story through such witty lyrics, and enjoy the music of Sullivan.
Frederic is indentured by his (rather deaf) nursemaid as an apprentice pirate rather than the intended apprentice pilot. And on that crucial misunderstanding and the fact that Frederic was born on 29th February, hangs the whole story. The alternative title of the opera is ‘The Slave of Duty’ and Frederic’s moral struggle between serving out his apprenticeship and his determination to ensure his pirate comrades are brought to justice for their behaviour, forms the main storyline.
Michael McFarlane as Frederic, the Pirate Apprentice, and Gillian Robertson as Mabel deserve special mention for the quality of their voices. Gillian Robertson’s rendition of Poor Wand’ring One was exceptional and both leads sustained a consistently high standard throughout the evening. This was Michael McFarlane’s first production with EDGAS and his performance was so outstandingly good that I hope it is the first of many. If I had any criticism it was that it was occasionally hard to hear the lyrics, particularly when Gillian Robertson moved upstage. As much of the pleasure of the comic opera comes from the clever writing it was a pity that some of this was lost.
The large male chorus was exuberant and noisy and when joined by the women the stage became a riot of colour and movement. The sheer enthusiasm of the members of the chorus was evident and ensured the audience was kept entertained. Others who deserve special mention are Scott Thomson who plays The Pirate King and Ian Lawson who performed the ‘patter song’ of Major-General Stanley with panache. His slippers were pretty neat too!
It’s a fun night out!