Pirates of Penzance

Sun 11th – Tue 13th August 2013


Eliza Plowden

at 10:02 on 12th Aug 2013



I am not usually an opera fanatic, so was unsure what to expect from the Durham University Light Opera Group’s performance of ‘The Pirates of Penzance’. The large audience at The Merchants’ Hall must have had high expectations for this Gilbert and Sullivan classic, and I’m sure that many of these were met by the show’s debut performance.

‘The Pirates of Penzance’ follows the relationship between Frederic, a pirate, and his love, Mabel. The show is suitable for all ages, containing some harmless pirates, beautiful maidens, and a charming Major General, as well as a lot of entertaining song and dance. DULOG’s performance is generally impressive, although there is a significant range of talent, with certain members overdoing the hearty attitudes and expressions. Natalie Goodwin is strong as the protagonist, convincingly conveying Frederic’s innocence upon being freed from his internship as a pirate, and her voice is strong and clear throughout. Elissa Churchill is a gifted opera singer; the astonishingly high notes that she reaches in Mabel’s many solos are stunning.

The quality of the singing is evidently essential for the success of ‘The Pirates of Penzance’, and the cast’s harmonies are frequently fantastic. The vocals is noticeably better when the whole cast joins in, as the chorus showcases the impressive range of voices in beautiful harmonies. Goodwin, Churchill and Alex Humphries’ voices carry the best, frequently overpowering the weaker cast members. This issue could perhaps be improved if the piano were a bit quieter; although the musicians are outstanding, the solos are frequently hard to discern behind the loud music. For example, although Henry Coates is charming as the Major General, his performance of the famous ‘Major General’s Song’ is underwhelming; his words are not projected well enough, coming across as mumbled and slightly out of time.

Nevertheless, the show is energetic, well-choreographed and visually captivating. The cast use the frequent role changes to their advantage, switching costumes to comic effect; the boys are particularly entertaining as petticoated maidens and tutu-wearing sergeants. The production is polished and, although the acting is not always flawless, the cheerful cast works well together.

‘The Pirates of Penzance’ has certainly given me a good introduction to the work of Gilbert and Sullivan, convincing me that opera can be thoroughly entertaining. Although there are some problem areas, these do not detract from DULOG’s overall achievement, as their performance keeps the audience engaged for the entire ninety minutes.


Rose Bonsier

at 10:03 on 12th Aug 2013



If you’re up for a swash-buckling adventure with a bit of singing and dancing mixed in then 'The Pirates of Penzance' by Durham University’s Light Opera Group might be just the show for you. Even with a stage set limited to just a wicker chest this eight strong cast manage to bring to life the exotic isles with great gusto. This show is very much about the musical performances and they certainly don’t disappoint.

Producer Natalie Goodwin takes the lead as Frederic, portraying the youthful pirate recruit as quick witted and decisive but a gentleman none the less. She holds a subtle and elegant tone throughout the show, joined often by a beautiful choral harmony from the rest of the group. Goodwin’s performance of ‘Stop, Ladies, Pray!’ joined by the entire cast, including the boys, in lacy white negligées is truly something to behold. The overacted reactions of the young daughters of the Major General in this song and throughout the rest of the performance are very well directed and wonderfully funny.

Henry Coates strolls confidently in, with an old-aged hobble of course, to steal the show as the Major General himself. His characterization of this kind but cunning man is spot on, and he held presence on the stage remarkably, especially during the songs.

The most outstanding vocal performance though is beyond a shadow of a doubt given by Elissa Churchill in the role of Mabel. The strength of her voice is phenomenal and could be compared to that of a professional singer. Her acting is no less successful and she convincingly depicts an all-consuming adoration of Frederic against the odds.

With such a number of characters involved in this particular script a certain amount of multi-rolling is inevitable, but this is managed incredibly well with slick and swift costume changes between the songs. The pirates, the young ladies and the police efficiently double up as one another without confusion.

Whilst it would have perhaps been nice to have a more extensive musical accompaniment I appreciate that this may have been impractical and logistically difficult. That being said, the live piano performances were incredibly good and pianists Sam Williams and Katie Athorne have certainly done a fantastic job in leading the musical numbers.

This is an altogether very well-orchestrated performance that sticks to the traditional musical but doesn’t take itself too seriously, throwing around the comedy of the script in a way that’s light and entertaining.


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