This evening's performance was SavoyNet's Pirates, which I'd been awaiting with great interest. It was indeed a very interesting production, with some lovely touches, and a couple of unexpected breaks with tradition. One of these was having Mabel already on stage as part of the group of daughters, but not identified until she came in with 'Yes, one!'. Although this makes perfect sense in relation to the story, it doesn't quite have the dramatic impact of a separate entrance, and had me wondering momentarily whether I'd missed something. Another unusual feature was not having the Major General pause to think of any of his rhymes; this was possibly the fastest delivery I've ever seen of this song, without any loss of clarity, and the audience were clearly delighted with it! In fact, the Major General was one of the highlights of the evening; he later appeared clutching a teddy for 'Sighing Softly', and at one point started waltzing with a very nonplussed pirate.
Other touches that really appealed to me were:
- just as Frederic is protesting that he mustn't tell the pirates why they are so unsuccessful, a clock starts to chime offstage; the Pirate King shoots the clock before telling Frederic that it's only half past eleven.
- when the Pirate King suggests that not one of the Pirates would deprive Frederic of his love, one of them does try to protest, and is silenced and held back by a couple of his comrades. I've become very interested in the character of Ruth, and her possible back-story, and it's always seemed vanishly improbable to me that a group of men with no other female company generally available should all be so keen to be rid of her.
- in the Major General's song, I'm sure I spotted a brief hand gesture intended to convey the impression of a loincloth at the mention of 'Caractacus's uniform'.
- Ruth pulling a pistol on the Major General while telling him of the pirates' true identity.
The show opened with some rousing singing from the men's chorus, all decked out in their piratical finest, while Ruth fussed over a slightly irritated Frederic. There was some lovely choreography for the ladies chorus in 'Climbing over rocky mountains', and one of the later numbers - it felt like people were actually dancing, rather than just moving around the stage in time to the music (to my mind, there's a significant distinction here). While on the subject of dancing, Frederic was a fabulous mover - it was just a shame that the story didn't really allow the scope for showcasing more of his amazing talent in this field. He sang nicely, but not loud enough. There was some nice (and humourous) interaction between Frederic and Mabel (who sang beautifully) in their initial scene together, which ended with them coyly holding hands (a nice change from the more knowing interpretations of Mabel I've seen recently). However, there didn't seem to be much chemistry between them in their later scenes.
There was some good singing from the Pirate King and Samuel, although I didn't feel I got to know their characters as well as I'd have liked to. One of the comments made in the adjudication was that the show had lacked pace, and that delivery of some of the spoken lines and the music was a bit slow. This surprised me, as several of the musical numbers were taken faster than my preference would be (though that's just a matter of personal taste). And if anything, I felt that some of the spoken lines could have benefitted from a slower, more exaggerated delivery.
The Sergeant and his police force were a delight, dressed as Victorian bobbies in black coats, white trousers and tall hats similar to a stovepipe. They sang some of their responses barber-shop style, adopting a group pose with some members kneeling, which was very effective.
The show closed with the whole cast coming on stage waving the flags of their respective countries (we think we spotted England, Wales, Belgium, Sweden and the US), which was a nice reminder that the SavoyNet production is a truly international endeavour. It must be a huge challenge to pull a show together in such a short space of time. It was a very enjoyable and competent performance, without any of the 'ragged edges' I noted in Tuesday's 'Iolanthe', but it didn't quite have that indefinable je ne sais quoi that makes for a really exceptional show. (Neither, in my opinion, did the Mike Leigh production - it may just be that I'm particularly hard to please when it comes to Pirates.)
P.S. just realised I haven't said anything about Ruth's singing, which was superb!