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The Parson's Pirates: Cornerstone, Didcot
With Opera della Luna, you have to expect the unexpected — and that was certainly true with director Jeff Clarke’s inventive recreation of The Pirates of Penzance. This is a revival of an early company production, and although not quite as cleverly reworked as some of the later offerings, it is still rib-achingly funny.
The action takes place in the parish hall of St Michael Under-Ware, where the Rev Arthur Bender (brilliantly played by Richard Suart) is trying to cajole his parishioners into taking part in a fund-raising performance of The Pirates of Penzance. The first half is the auditions — a glorious excuse for a G&S karaoke, with popular numbers from The Mikado, Patience, The Gondoliers and Iolanthe, among others, plus lots of tomfoolery and risqué jokes. During On a tree by a river from The Mikado, the audience is divided into two to sing the chorus, with one half singing ‘Willow’ and the other half singing . . . have a guess!
The auditioners are assorted misfits — two churchwardens, the over-eager Fred Prendergast (Ian Belsey) and the reluctant, sad-looking Norman Prickett (Martin George); the punkish Tracey (Helen Massey), who morphs into a gorgeous Mabel; a nameless young man (Jeremy Finch) who plays a boyish Frederic; and Mrs Goodbody (Louise Crane), who draws lots of laughter with her Birmingham-accented Ruth.
Then comes the production of Pirates — billed as “complete and unabridged, with cuts”. This takes a traditional route apart from the fact that there is no chorus and the cast take two or three parts. It works — just! — and bubbles along with trademark humour and absurdity