It’s been over a decade since Sasha Regan’s All Male The Pirates of Penzance premiered at The Union Theatre. In the intervening period it has enjoyed several revivals including an international tour, but it was during a pandemic that it made its way to the West End.
In that brief period at the end of 2020, when theatres were allowed to re-open with social distancing in place, The All Male Pirates appeared at the Palace Theatre for two performances, one of which was filmed and is being made available for streaming on stream.theatre.
This original all male production has given rise to others; Pinafore, Mikado and Iolanthe amongst them, and their popularity has only grown over time, because for some reason the format succeeds in bringing new life to Gilbert and Sullivan’s Operettas.
The defining factor of the All Male The Pirates of Penzance, is that they are presented as written. The female characters are still female, and portrayed in the way Gilbert and Sullivan intended, but they are, as the title suggests, played by men. That’s not to say there isn’t an element of ‘camp’ in these productions, but it’s used to emphasise Gilbert and Sullivan’s already comedic libretto. There is wild laughter from the audience as the young ‘maidens’ appear for the first time, it’s undeniably funny, but the way they are presented doesn’t feel contrived.
Sasha Regan directs a production that is strangely modern, if it weren’t for the traditionally poetic language employed, you would struggle to realise it was written 140 years ago. Robyn Wilson-Owen’s set is simple but effective. Combine that with Ben Bull’s striking lighting design, and you find yourself with a really beautiful looking interpretation of this operetta.
Aside from Gilbert’s witty script and Sullivan’s impossibly catchy score, played on a single piano, it is that seventeen strong, all-male cast who are the real main attraction. Tom Senior does a remarkable job as Frederic, the slave to duty who finds himself to be aged just five and a quarter, thanks to the paradox facilitated by being born in a leap year.
Alan Richardson, who has in previous versions played Ruth, makes the transition to Frederic’s love interest Mabel, while Oliver Savile joins the cast as a striking Pirate King. David McKechnie remains in the role of The Major General, who delivers a flawless version of the infamous patter song, delighting the audience in doing so.
After so many years it’s perhaps surprising that Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are still to anyone’s taste, yet this very model of a modern production shows that these works can still be produced with innovation. All Male The Pirates of Penzance does work particularly well in this set up, thanks to its highly comedic characters, which benefit from Sasha Regan’s unique twist.
All Male The Pirates of Penzance is available to stream on stream.theatre 29th March to 5th April 2021.