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Review: Pirates of Penzance, at London Coliseum

02 March, 2017 — By Sarah Dawes

John Tomlinson – a brilliant Sergeant in Pirates

ENGLISH National Opera’s revival of Mike Leigh’s 2015 production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance emphasises the anti-stereotypical nature of most of the characters. Thus the hero, Frederic (David Webb), is a complete wimp; the pirates are so kind and gentle they won’t rob anyone who claims to be an orphan; and their boss, the Pirate King (Ashley Riches), is a mincing dandy.

Even the Major General (Andrew Shore), whose patter song shows him to be so learned in non-military matters, is not very soldier-like. And the policemen are unhappy with their lot. However, Sir John Tomlinson, who has sung with the ENO since the 1970s, is brilliant as their Sergeant.

There is an interesting set, a huge circle, through which the hull of the pirate ship protrudes to start with. In the second act, the huge circle becomes the frame for the beach. There are steps down the cliff that the Major General’s 13 daughters descend with delicacy and elegance, wearing delightful hats and bustles.

All the principals perform with admirable vivacity. Soraya Mafi is outstanding as Mabel, particularly on her effortless high notes.

Lucy Schaufer, as Ruth the nursemaid, revels in a Cornish accent, which perhaps explains why she had Fred apprenticed to be a Pirate instead of a Pilot. This, along with his birthday being on February 29, causes delightful confusion.

The result is glorious fun and shouldn’t be missed.

ENO’s Pirates of Penzance, London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC2. Six evening performances remaining: 7.30pm on March 4, 9, 11, 16, 21, 23; and three matinees: 3pm on March 4, 18, 25. 020 7845 9300, www.eno.org

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