In the interval, I sneaked a quick word with David Eaton, musical director and supplier of two of the four hands bashing away at the piano. “Are they having as much fun as it looks?” “Pretty much, yeah,” came the answer – and that fun is at the heart of another stripped down hammed up Charles Court Opera production.
Leading the troupe, as well as his troops, is director and Pirate King, John Savournin, whose sea-faring lackeys are about as frightening as Viz’s Pathetic Sharks. This hookless Captain Hook lookalike hooked young Frederic (Kevin Kyle) as an apprentice many years ago (as a result of his nursery maid Ruth’s ears inability to distinguish the noble role of “Pilot” from the dastardly role of “Pirate” – you see the territory we’re in).
Being Gilbert and Sullivan, there’s a puffed-up authority figure (the celebrated very model of a modern Major-General), beautiful girls (who aren’t quite the shrinking violets they insist they are) and a preposterous denouement (just when you thought it couldn’t get any sillier).
But there’s genius in the language, the glorious tunes and the bonhomie that envelopes the audience from first note to last. In a venue like this, there’s not much of a set, but the costumes, make-up and hair are perfect, the voices (up close) are wonderful and the respect for the material and the audience never wavers, even through some mugging to camera that Oliver Hardy would have enjoyed. Plaudits for the funniest turns go to either end of the age spectrum: for Simon Masterton-Smith’s Sergeant of Police conveying his growing fear of chasing down the pirates; and for Alexandra Hutton’s dazzling comic timing and soaring soprano voice as Frederic’s sweetheart, Mabel.
“Savoy Opera” combines two words that suggest a privileged audience sitting stiffly for a dose of highbrow culture – in short, an evening to make your bum ache. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’ll be larger theatres for Pirates, there’ll be more spectacular sets and there’ll be bigger numbers in the chorus and the orchestra pit. But I doubt that there’ll be more fun had, on the stage or in the stalls, than in this production of a hugely entertaining show. Turn up and see for yourself – all you need is a funny bone and to be able to hear the difference between “Pilot” and “Pirate”.
The Pirates of Penzance continues at The King’s Head until 29 September.