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Review: The Pirates of Penzance by Bristol University Operatic Society (BOpS) at the Pegg Studio Theatre

BOpS returns with a bang as they tackle another Gilbert and Sullivan masterpiece.

Rating: ★★★★★

 By Milan PereraDeputy Editor

Can you find an operatic ensemble that is as passionate as the University of Bristol Operatic Society (BopS) is for Gilbert and Sullivan? Perhaps not. They have found their metier in the works of the dynamic duo of English operettas.

Their previous productions of Iolanthe and HMS Pinafore garnered critical acclaim. And their recent production of The Pirates of Penzance certainly did not disappoint. In fact, it was a ship firing on all cylinders!

The Bristol University Operatic Society’s (BOpS’) rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance was a delightful journey into the realm of orchestrated chaos, cutting social commentary and delightful tunes, skilfully directed by Lucy Coleman. From the moment the spotlight beamed on the Pegg Studio Theatre, it was a tour de force, filled with energy and talent.

Conductor Sam Kail-Dyke gave a downbeat and sparked the proceedings for the evening with the small but polished orchestral ensemble. 

BOpS production is a journey into the realm of orchestrated chaos and delightful tunes - Milan Perera

The story revolves around Frederic, who was mistakenly apprenticed to a band of tender-hearted pirates by his nursemaid, Ruth. As Frederic approached his 21st birthday, he decided to leave the pirates and pursue a law-abiding life. However, he soon learned that due to his leap year birthday, he was born on February 29th and thus technically has a birthday only once every four years, meaning he was still bound by his apprenticeship!

Complications arose when Frederic fell in love with Mabel, the daughter of Major General Stanley, whose house they were about to rob. The Pirate King and Ruth were plotting to keep Frederic with the pirates, while Major General Stanley used his wit and charm to try to protect his daughters and himself from the pirates. The pace of the action picked up and the audience dearly wishes that the lovers be united against all odds.

The stage comes alive with a whirlwind of activity, as the cast moved with precision and panache - Milan Perera

As the Pirate King, Anthony Roberts brought forth an air of flamboyance to the role, with a dash of Hans Holbein’s Henry VIII thrown in, while Charlotte Addy’s magnificent vocal presence and thespian skills brought the character of Ruth to life. Her portrayal entreated the audience to empathise with her misfortune.

James Outtrim, stepping in for Carey Mauger, executed Samuel, second-in-command to the Pirate King, with a blend of charm and mischief.

James Kerr made an imposing Sergeant of Police leading a fine body of confused Cornish policemen, while Stephen Murphy executed the eccentricity of Major General Stanley to a tee. Major General was ably assisted by his four loving daughters, neatly portrayed with a splash of vivacity by Nel Willmer, Naama Brittenden, Florence Snoxell and Mayuri Swarminathan.

One of the standout performances of the evening came from Mayuri Swarminathan as Mable, whose portrayal was nothing short of mercurial. With a voice that soared effortlessly into the stratosphere, Swarminathan brought a unique charm and charisma to the role, captivating the audience with her stunning coloratura lines and impeccable vocal control. Her rendition of ‘Poor Wandering One’, also known as Mable's aria, was a true feat of vocal gymnastics, leaving the audience spellbound.

Major General Stanley at his eccentric best - Milan Perera

But this wasn't just a performance that shone brightly; the cast and chorus delivered a stellar performance - from the swashbuckling pirates to the lovestruck Frederick, every character was brought to life with depth and nuance, creating a rich tapestry of personalities that added depth to the story.

Io Limmer, the former President of BOpS transmuted the cast with their vibrant and captivating costume designs that provided a sheen to the already mercurial production.

Coleman's direction breathed new life into this classic operetta, infusing it with dynamic staging and a palpable sense of excitement. The stage came alive with a whirlwind of activity, as the cast moved with precision and panache, creating a captivating spectacle that kept the audience thoroughly entertained throughout the performance.

Finally, love triumphs as Frederic is released from his apprenticeship and marries Mabel - Milan Perera

Much to the relief of the expectant audience, the misunderstandings were resolved by the end, and love triumphed as Frederic was released from his apprenticeship and married Mabel.

BOpS’ production of The Pirates of Penzance was a soaring triumph, thanks to the masterful direction of Lucy Coleman and the incredible talent of the cast. With its blend of humour, heart, and vocal gymnastics, it was a truly unforgettable evening of entertainment that left the audience cheering for an encore.

Featured image: Milan Perera

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