Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
The Slave of Duty is five and a little bit over
Ainsley Hayes: I said I feel a sense of duty. Lionel Tribbey: What, did you just walk out of The Pirates of Penzance? Don't tell me about Gilbert and Sullivan. It's from Penzance or Iolanthe... one of the ones about duty.
Ainsley Hayes: They're all about duty. (The West Wing)
Well, perhaps not all, but certainly The Pirates of Penzance is – even the sub-title is 'The Slave of Duty'.
The 'slave' is Frederick, apprentice to the famous Pirates of Penzance. Penzance in 1879, when the operetta was written, was a peaceful resort port in the westernmost part of Cornwall.
'I am a Pirate King/Major-General' (photography: Page Photography)
Frederick loves Mabel, ward of General Stanley. Mabel loves Frederick, who has come of age and left his piratical trade behind him. BUT, as he was born on the 29th of February, strictly speaking, he is bound until his 21st birthday, which won't be until 1940 ('It seems so long', sings Mabel)
This, possibly the best-loved of the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire behind Mikado, is a harmless romp filled with laughter and glorious music.
Frederick and Mabel plight their troth (Photograph: Page Photography)
Part of the purpose of reviews such as this one is to encourage readers to buy tickets and attend if the production is good. This is an entirely wasted effort here, as the ten performance production has been completely sold out for at least three weeks.
I attended the opening night with expectations high – I love this show, have nearly directed it once myself and know it very well. There are two current versions – the traditional, D'Oyly Carte, version we know and love and the Joseph Papp version of 1983 starring Linda Ronstadt, Kevin Kline and Angela Lansbury.
That production takes some liberties with the script and adds in an aria from Ruddigore, but It Really Doesn't Matter. This is the production that Jon English toured all over Australia with a few years back.
As you would expect from the purists at the G & S Society, they have remained true to the original, with a couple of tiny tweaks of language.
And so, on to this production. Firstly and most importantly, it looks gorgeous. The costumes (by Gail Reading, assisted by Veronica Hudson and team of Clair Holdsworth, Tanya Hill, Laura Hill, Bernie Lane, Anne Poepjes and Sue Davis) were appropriate, fitted, perfectly suited to character and so many! The pirates, daughters, policemen, not forgetting the splendid General Stanley all had to be costumed.
Then the music and voices, wonderfully directed by Musical Director and Conductor, Michael Brett, whose orchestra of some twenty musicians brought the music so marvellously to life.
The famous Pirates of Penzance (Photograph: Page Photography)
Voices were well-chosen and really impressive, showcasing our amazing local talent from the well-born but autocratic Pirate King to the chorus, working so well together.
The direction, by the highly experienced Alan Needham, presented some serious challenges. Dolphin's stage isn't small, but with a cast of over thirty, most of whom are on stage most of the time, placing, blocking and movement must have been a nightmare. Never mind that this is an operetta produced many, many times before and comparisons, however odious, are inevitably going to be drawn.
But this production is fresh, absolutely non-derivative and compelling. Beginning with the pirate band celebrating Frederick's completion of his indentures (Pour, oh Pour the Pirate Sherry).
The vast cast means that set and scenery had perforce to be simple and uncomplicated - Barry Boyd and Roger Reading did a bang-up job here, enough to evoke atmosphere but not so much as to impede movement.
Frederick and Mabel plus family (Photograph: Page Photography)
I was so happy that the Pirate King (Theodore Murphy-Jelley) showed no shadow of Jack Sparrow but brought his own flamboyant dash to the role. We saw him last as Pooh-bah in Mikado. A lovely baritone he not only filled the role, he over-flowed it.
Frederick, the hapless victim of duty and circumstance was taken by Chad Henderson, a stalwart of the Society and a charming tenor working opposite love interest the delectable Mabel (Magda Lisek), a WAAPA graduate who brought all her skill to Mabel's quite tricky period trills and swoops. This is, I think, her first outing with the Society, but I hope not her last.
The role of Ruth, the slightly deaf, middle-aged nursery maid madly, badly in love with Frederick was taken by another WAAPA graduate, Belinda Cox, with the aid of quite a lot of make-up and some clever lighting. A lovely character part, Belinda made the very most of every classic line and her comic timing is impeccable.
The Pirate King, Frederick and his little Ruth (Photograph: Page Photography)
The iconic role of Major-General Stanley (based on real-life Victorian hero Sir Garnet Wolseley) was splendidly taken by Ronald Macqueen, a veteran of stage, screen and TV, who brought panache to the viciously difficult patter song, I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General and a general air of distinction to the part. His delivery of the glorious line in Act Two about his ancestors was masterly.
Leading the police contingent was Sergeant (Stephen Hastings) leading a rag-tag group of heroes being sent to 'death and glory' before 'all limbs we sever' who has a huge repertoire and experience, all of which shows in his work.
'A policeman's lot is not an nappy one'. (Photograph: Page Photography)
Supporting the principals were an exceedingly strong chorus of policemen, pirates and daughters, many of whom could easily have been principal singers, have been in the past, and will be in the future, including Tim Longley, Catherine Archer, Liza Cobb and Charlotte Rollinson.
Opening to a capacity crowd, some understandable first night nerves soon settled and a thoroughly enjoyable performance followed. At this point, I'd usually say buy a ticket, but there aren't any – so get on the waiting list.
Thank you to the G & S Society for a wonderful evening full of light-hearted music, laughter and enjoyment.
The season runs until the 12th June at the Dolphin Theatre, UWA. Curtain up at 7:30pm
Fun fact – a real-life victim of the 29th February paradox was Gioachino Rossini, who died in 1868 aged 76 (or 19).
Mjor-General Stanley and his delightful daughters (Photography: Page Photography)