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The Pirates of Penzance G&S (arr Chris Monks)

Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, 16 January 2007

It was Benedict Nightingale in The Times who persuaded us to make the long journey right across London to Richmond. Long established in Staffordshire for more than ten years, Chris Monks' updating from 1879 to 1996 fits snugly into the little Orange Tree theatre-in-the-round. It has proved to be such a hit that first night reviews achieved a sell-out for most of the run, which prevented us from seeing it sooner.

Other reviews were indeed more mixed, but Nightingale's hit the tone of what we felt exactly. Chris Monks's updating remains true to the dated original, and both Gilbert and Sullivan themselves are treated with due respect.

Doubling roles within the versatile cast of twelve covers all the requirements with aplomb; lack of space has the props stored just outside the acting space for instant scene changes. We disagreed slightly between us at how Philippa Stanton was made to caricature her own colaraturo singing skills; it was like a double take on Gilbert's satirical targets.

The long term viability of G&S has been assured with lavish productions at ENO, but we have been equally impressed with how well small scale reductions come across. Hot Mikardo was memorable at a pub theatre in Highgate, and an outdoor Pirates of Penzance with state-of-the-art amplification at Regent's Park in remains a treasured memory from summer 2000. (Do check out those two links.)

My only small criticism is of the "orchestra" of two, which carries a heavy musical burden, and was too reticent especially in the first half. But that may have been a decision in consideration for audience members sitting just inches in front of them. I wonder whether they checked out the possibility of placing the musicians upstairs in one of the corners of the gallery?

Peter Grahame Woolf

Orange Tree Theatre
Box office: 0208 940 3633

- - a modern major-general ... Alan McMahon and cast in The Pirates of Penzance. Photograph R: Tristram Kenton