DIRECTOR: Greg Homann


CAST: David Dennis, Michael Richard, Jonathan Taylor, |Clinton Hawks, Keaton |Ditchfield.

VENUE: Sandton Old Mutual Theatre on the Square

UNTIL: December 22

RATING: ****

There are only a few things more typically English and Victorian than the artistic work of two famous British busybodies: the music of Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) and the librettos of the satirical light-dramatist WS Gilbert (1836-1911). Together they wrote operas, but don’t break your neck or anything else about this fact.

Sullivan’s settings of librettos by other writers have not kept the stage, and vice versa: Gilbert’s non-Sullivan works failed to keep the public eye. They were born for each other and their works live to this day in most countries where English is spoken, like in South Africa.

Dapne Kuhn, owner of the theatre, produced this all-male production of G & S’s funniest work, at the end of 2011. It was such a success that it had to be brought back. With this cast it’s a hoot, hilarious, bawdy and full of unexpected twists flowing out of the creative and nifty mind of the director and his cast of six, including Kevin Kraak, the musical director.

It’s ideal festive fare and very far removed from any form of traditional G & S. It’s a bit shortened and is given much more oomph thanks to the pace of the production, which is ensemble-driven and one where costume changes, among other things, are executed with military precision.

This year’s production has a number of new faces and a different MD. Not having seen the previous one, I can’t imagine it being bettered by anyone.

Dennis is the hero of the night. From being Ruth to playing and singing Major General Stanley, he fizzes on stage. When he announces that he’ll sing the famous tongue-twisting aria Presto Marcato, he does exactly that. He never runs out of breath, while his range of movement on stage is something to behold.

Stalwart Richard is kept as busy in the roles of Sam, Kate and the Sergeant. In the latter’s big aria he thrives, while maintaining a level of theatrical spontaneity alive that is without peer.

It’s also fun to watch him doing naughty things most discreetly.

Taylor as the Pirate King, Edith and a policeman is as much part of the soul of this company as his already mentioned contemporaries. The younger Hawks as a Pirate and Mabel was in his element playing the latter.

A mockery was twice made of the fact that “she” had a lovely soft beard, while in his singing Hawks handled his falsettos with aplomb.

Ditchfield’s Frederick, who falls in love with Mabel, has a youthful charm but at times struggles slightly to stay fully in character.

Kevin Kraak is crackingly effective as the pianist who, during a couple of scenes, gets involved with the cast as an extra character.

Homann, who also designed the set and props, directs a well-paced, tightly knit production, but knows exactly how much freedom to allow for his team to keep spontaneity flowing.

One special pleasure here is his versatile use of tailor’s dummies.

Sarah Roberts’s costume designs are both stylish and fun-enhancing.

Pirates is top-shelf escapism for the festive season.