"A laugh-a-minute, vibrant performance" - The Pirates of Penzance

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By Gruff Kennedy, second year English

Gruff Kennedy reviews BOpS' 'perfect blend of real operatic flair and just-barely-controlled pandemonium'.

I must admit I was skeptical upon hearing that the Bristol University Operatic Society- that’s BOpS to you and me- were performing their latest show in the intimate surroundings of the Bristol Improv Theatre, instead of the rather more spacious Winston Theatre in which they normally perform. Having worked as the head of set in a previous performance, I was concerned that some of the scale that suits opera so well might have been lost in a space with the constraints of the Improv Theatre. My fears, however, were completely blown out of the window: The Pirates of Penzance is an unmitigated success, a laugh-a-minute, vibrant performance full of wit and humor.

The small venue, though obviously limiting in some ways, provides for some excellent physical comedy. Characters' obliviousness to their enemies hiding behind one-foot-tall inflatable trees is a particular highlight; other inventive uses of the small space include members of the cast annoying the orchestra, and, in the case of Abi Towle’s Ruth, rather unsettlingly grinding on the audience. Lighting operator Tom Younger makes good use of limited equipment, creating a sense of mood when needed with blocks of cold and warm colors. The aesthetic decision to go for a bright and cheesy Butlin’s aesthetic, all loud shirts and inflatable unicorn rafts, is a stroke of genius.

"a bright and cheesy Butlin’s aesthetic, all loud shirts and inflatable unicorn rafts"

A lively cast brings Gilbert and Sullivan’s farcical wit to life. Special mentions must go to Emily Khatib’s scene-stealing performance as an especially promiscuous member of the chorus, Ollie Bowes’ tip-top ‘model of a modern major general’, and Eoin Condron’s blustering constable. One of the chorus can’t stop himself from bursting into laughter during an especially ridiculous scene, but it only adds to the sense of complete disorder held just at bay that makes the whole opera so funny.

Weak points are few and far between, although the male lead, playing Frederic, has quite a quiet voice which is very often lost under the noise of the orchestra or other cast members. A few other small slip-ups include one actor sprinting across the stage during the intro, having forgotten his starting point, and there are a few mismatched tempos. Ultimately, however, these do very little to detract from what is, for the most part, a very competently assembled show. The fantastic atmosphere (helped,in part, by the cheap drinks from the theatre bar), means that the little mistakes genuinely don’t matter much at all.

"a sense of complete disorder held just at bay"

For all the comedic chaos and preposterous setpieces, BOpS makes ample use of the opportunity to showcase some impressive talent. From Will Kieser’s accomplished musical direction- props for squeezing such a large orchestra into such a small space- to female lead Madeleine Hsue’s stunningly powerful voice, the performance is a perfect blend of real operatic flair and just-barely-controlled pandemonium.

★★★★

(Featured image credits: Unsplash / Joseph Barrientos)


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