Fringe Box



Review: The Pirates of Penzance – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 13 Jun, 2017
Updated on: 13 Jun, 2017

Joseph Hewlett as Frederic, the pirate apprentice.

This week, Gilbert and Sullivan fans are in for a treat.

Guildford’s Performance Preparation Academy returns to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre with their own version of the operetta, The Pirates of Penzance, directed by Christopher Howell and performed by the academy’s third-year musical theatre students.

Opera, however light or comic, is not something that we often get to see performed by a company of students, but this was a great choice by PPA, much suited to the Arnaud. The premiere of the original show was in New York in 1879 and it opened in London one year later.

The plot focuses on Frederic, the “pirate apprentice”, who should be released from his apprenticeship having completed 21 years, but due to his birthday falling on the 29 February, he is only, in fact, five and a quarter and has to wait another 63 years before his 21st birthday.

He falls in love with Mabel, the Major General’s daughter, who agrees to be faithful to him and wait for as long as it takes.

Joseph Hewlett takes on the role of Frederic and it is obvious why. He is not only the tall handsome leading man with eyes that would melt any girl’s heart but has the voice and the acting skills to match the looks.

He has good chemistry with Caitlin Swanton, who played the role of Mabel on the night we were there. She is also a very talented young actress, who handles the lead role most competently and holds our attention throughout, and her operatic singing is exceptional.

If that is the path she is intending to follow, I am certain we will see her in Glyndebourne or on the stage of the Coliseum in the not too distant future. I do hope she will utilise that incredible soprano voice.

Caitlin Swanton… her operatic singing is exceptional…

The group of pirates are led by Christian Tyler-Wood as the Pirate King, who have fun, possibly having watched The Pirates of the Caribbean for inspiration, and they have a few energetic numbers throughout the show with some good choreography by Honor O’Neill.

I particularly enjoyed the group work and individual characterisations by the sisters who are dressed as public school girls and get the pace going in the first act after a short lull, with Climbing Over Rocky Mountain, soon followed by Oh! Is There Not One Maiden Breast in which they are joined by Frederic.

There are lots of familiar songs in the show, but one of the most famous numbers is the extremely fast paced I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General which is taken on most competently by Ben Everett Riley.

His Major General is posh, slightly camp, and not the brightest spark, which feels just right. The set is minimal but that makes us concentrate on the acting of the students more and the lighting by Mark Dymock complements the show well.

According to their website, PPA believes that theatre training should be a challenging and inspiring. This production with a modern twist is just that and everyone in the audience had smiles on their faces afterwards, which is what you really want from a night out at the theatre.

The Pirates of Penzance runs until Saturday 17 June 17 and tickets are available via the website: or by calling the box office on 01483 440000.

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