“How can anyone not like Gilbert and Sullivan?” Perhaps an understandable remark from a 65 year-old who grew up with “The Good Old Days” on the telly every Friday night, but rather less expected from a 15 year-old who rates Eminem a greater poet than Shakespeare. But so said my son at the interval of Sasha Regan’s all-male Pirates of Penzance (at the Hackney Empire until 30 September). Nobody in the house would have disagreed.
The gimmick of this production (soon to go to Australia) is that everyone on stage has a Y chromosome. As gimmicks go, it’s not a very good one, since we soon forget about it and get on with enjoying the soaring singing and ludicrous lyrics. (Okay – there are a few gender-bending gags when THE MAIDENs are chased by the pirates and Joseph Houston is something of an Old Dame as the oldish dame, Ruth, but it all adds to the fun.)
Matthew Gent is charming as Frederic, the slave of duty apprenticed to the Pirate King (Nic Gibney, a-snarling and a-shiver-me-timbering). Neil Moors gives us an energetic Major-General’s song and Adam Vaughan leads his Ta-Ra-Ta-Ra-ing police with a curling moustache and villainously arched eyebrow. But the “girls” steal the show, eyelashes fluttering and er… shoulders (if not bosoms) heaving. Alan Richardson, with a perfect falsetto, is an alluring and (best of all) funny Mabel, a sweetheart for Frederic and his sisters are never less than comically female in word and deed.
Sasha Regan continues her string of successes with all-male G&S productions and is soon to set sail with her pirates to Australia. For now, they’re holed up in Hackney’s grand old Empire – and if you climb aboard in E8, you’ll have as much fun as they do.