Our arts correspondent BELLA BARTOCK got all hot and bothered on a cool summer evening by some of the racier performances at CODA’s outstanding production of Pirates of Penzance
I was saying only the other day over coffee with the Sage of Selsdon, before she went off to have her bunions done, how odd it was that Gilbert and Sullivan, once the mainstay of twee, middle-class suburban AmDram productions, had somehow drifted out of fashion. Why, the famous Savoy Theatre company’s name, D’Oyley Carte, isn’t even used as rhyming slang any longer, even by old farts like my Selsdon acquaintance.
And this week in Wandle Park, CODA, the Croydon Operatic and Dramatic Association, is showing with its latest brilliant production just why, even after nearly 150 years, the genius of the foot-tapping melodies and the laugh-out-loud witty lyrics retain their entertaining magic.
It might have been a chill July evening, with scudding clouds obscuring the starry summer night sky, but here was a performance to warm the cockles of the heart. In fact, whenever Bob Wilson, playing the Pirate King, with his frilly shirt open to the waist like some latter-day Ross Poldark, I could sense I was having one of my hot flushes again.
And the last time I had one of those, David Essex was playing Che.
Perhaps the greatest pity is that, with just four evening performances arranged and all of them sold out before the opening night, I shan’t have chance for a return visit, unless I trip along there again for Saturday’s matinee. Some tickets, I am told, are available at the venue box office.
Pirates works well outdoors on the lovely Victorian bandstand, with the pearl string lighting moving through from daylight to civil twilight and then nautical twilight.
Dynamic choreography made full use of the circular setting, both on and around the bandstand and the audience, some of whom were enjoying picnics, others who were supping the adequate red plonk available from the bar (I tried five glasses of it; it never seemed to improve with age).
It was a fast-paced and slick performance, with a rousing sound whenever the cast all gathered as a chorus.
Singling any one performer out in a bravura production is invidious, but before I got on to my third glass of vin rouge, I seem to recall noting that Chris Madden, making his debut for CODA as Frederic, had a pleasing tenor voice and was convincing as the love-struck lead, eager to do the right thing.
Another debutante for CODA was Alessandra Ludlam as Frederic’s sweetheart Mabel. her light soprano voice skipped through the tunes and coped admirably with moments of coloratura pyrotechnics.
Hats off to Peter Calver as Major-General Stanley, standing up to the expectations of the “Modern Major General” with all of its familiar patter and its sudden acceleration.
For at least one performer, their lot was not a happy one, but then the police sergeant was the role to which Michael Hall was well-cast.
And Vicky Watkins was typical of many of the cast as she made a stunning transformation from doting nurse in the first act to pirate in the second.
All performed with excellent comic timing and diction – which is vital for such a word-centric comic opera.
With the great tunes and witty words being delivered with such relish on the opening night, you could sense how much the performers were enjoying it and it was infectious – the audience left with smiles on faces.
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