Swashbuckling display needs a spit o’ polish

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, presented by the PE Gilbert and Sullivan Society featuring Jody Butler, Liske Potgieter, Cuan Louw and Len Sember. Directed by Rose Cowpar. (Savoy Theatre, until November 9).

Reviewed by Brett Adkins FOR an operetta that was written more than 130 years ago, this Gilbert and Sullivan perennial has always demonstrated how a mix of zany plot, witty dialogue, classical music, wry humour and exuberant dance can quite happily gel together.

Ironically, the observations woven into the works produced by this prolific albeit at times uneasy creative partnership, which poked fun at many aspects of a bigoted Victorian society, mirror more than just a few eccentricities of our 21st century attitudes.

For her directorial debut on a major production, Rose Cowpar – frequently seen on the boards herself – has assembled a mix of experience and fresh talent for a staging of the work which, apart from rough edges here and there and voices which don’t always hit the mark, nevertheless makes up for any shortcomings in sheer vibrancy and enthusiasm.

Many of the songs in Pirates are notoriously tricky – especially given the quick-march tempo of some of the more amusing numbers which require racehorse commentar y.

But fortunately the show benefits enormously from the powerful, soaring voice of Liske Potgieter – a trained opera singer – who as Mabel is an utterly commanding presence with every appearance.

Songs like Poor Wand’ring One and Stay, Fred’ric, Stay are splendid vehicles for her talents and invest these scenes with a full-bodied theatrical element.

Jody Butler as the swashbuckling Pirate King is an equally solid performer and brings to the role all the flamboyant charm, humour and devil-may-care mischievousness which endear the character to audiences. Butler has the house in his hand from the word go.

Likewise, Len Sember as the Major-General takes full advantage of all the rib-tickling idiosyncrasies of the part and makes a meal out of one of the most familiar, toe-tapping tunes – I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General – executing it with aplomb.

Cuan Louw as Frederic, the unfortunate reformed young pirate whose hopes of having a new life at 21 are dashed by his Leap Year birthday, tackles the role energetically and sets a terrific pace, but battles occasionally with songs where his voice is stretched.

Great comic relief is typically provided by the awkward police posse and here, led by James Smith as the gangling and seemingly double-jointed sergeant, they elicit well-deserved laughs while Bronwyn Maree as Ruth – Frederic’s adoring nursemaid – also extracts the most from her fun character.

While the dance routines are by no means elaborate and flashy, they create the desired rhythm and musical director Richard Campbell’s orchestra provides richly-textured backing.

Costumes, set and lighting have all been given the light, carnival touch which the material requires. It is just the absence of polish and uncoordinated flow of the action in some of the scenes which trips them up and hopefully this will be remedied soon enough.

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