Pirates Of Penzance
Regent's Park Theatre

Urban pirates in the park!

Is it Gilbert or is it Sullivan, the treasure presented by the Pirates of Penzance? At Regent’s Park Theatre in the open air the (amplified) words get closest attention. But, of course they are inseparable twins, G and S. It’s tunes that you come out humming, even if Steven Edis’s incredibly economical arrangement for this 1980 Joe Papp New York Central Park version is hard on Sullivan.

It uses eight instrumentalists, two with versatile electronic keyboards, including the excellent musical director, Catherine Jayes — as in last year’s memorably energetic staging by Ian Talbot, of which this version, with new sets and different costumes, is a close cousin. Singing may not be the whole point. But even in Victorian punning rhyming rap, the patter of tiny words benefits from firmer voices. Sullivan’s sturdy thread deserves better.

It’s wonderful theatrical gamesmanship. All the gently satirical elements are deliciously unfading: nursemaid Ruth’s ludicrous mistake indenturing Fred as an apprentice pirate, his leap-year birthday, the revelation that the pirates are just peers who have gone wrong, a topical arrow scoring bull’s-eye laughs. Mabel (Karen Evans) may sound a bit Minnie Mouse when she’s at a high climax. But we shouldn’t be too snooty about the singing, even if quality is vocally down a notch. Su Pollard’s far from plain Ruth manages her numbers very nicely.

The ensemble is robust. Gary Wilmot’s ultra-friendly Pirate King, all thumbs with a rapier except when he’s into sword-swallowing, is more relaxed than David Alder’s whiskery, slightly uptight Major General.

Joshua Dallas’s engaging grinning Fred has a ball, though his slavery to duty is more than a little tongue in cheek. When the Sergeant (Giles Taylor) thinks of strategic withdrawal but realises "It’s too late now", his style evokes Kenneth Williams. There’s nothing plodding about the arresting balletic footwork of constabulary duty in Penzance.

Tom Sutcliffe

This Is London 2001