Theatre Review: The Pirates of Penzance, Edinburgh

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SCOTTISH Opera are so close to being excellent that it’s almost too infuriating to watch The Pirates of Penzance.

Festival Theatre, * * *

Whether the problem lies with a general lack of confidence in really committing to the ridiculousness of the story or, as a company, in having an ethos of cool understatement, the result is the same, a near miss that needn’t have been.

Opera inspires enduring, fervent adoration in its audience, fans turn out with the expectation of being blown away by the emotional enormity of a situation tempered by the sort of fantastical folly that no other medium can expect its devotees to suspend their disbelief for. And Gilbert and Sullivan’s score and lyrics are pure folly.

If you’ve ever wondered what place opera has in modern society, then The Pirates of Penzance is the perfect place to start, just replace the Pirate King with David Cameron, and his co-horts with Dave’s Bullingdon Club cronies and you have a pretty good metaphor for any number of recent scandals in modern government.

The action centres on the pickle that hapless reformed pirate Frederic (Sam Furness) finds himself in on placing his responsibilities firmly above romance. Romantic counterpart Mabel, played with comic alacrity by Stephanie Corley, is assured in the face of such calamity. The fate of her mountaineering sisters, however, hangs in the balance. Only Frederic and the wary local constabulary, led with coquettish charm by Graeme Broadbent as their wily Sergeant, can save the virtuous young lasses from uncouth lives as pirates’ wenches.

The set is simple yet inspired by a myriad of familiar images, some decidedly pythonesque. The ensemble’s enunciation is clear and confident, even if Major General Stanley, Richard Stuart, was a little quiet. The Pirates, Police and Maidens are well organised and each have a separate, engaging identity that the audience easily related to, with belly laughs a plenty.

For all their joyous frivolity, however, only Broadbent’s character displayed the slapstick farce that should underscore the entire evening. Glorious as The Pirates of Penzance is, the production’s still all at sea.

• Run ends Saturday