The Pirates of Penzance

I managed about 2 hours of work yesterday and then the headache and sinus pressure kicked in again and I went back to bed and slept until 1pm today, Saturday.

I’d only been awake for about half an hour when I suddenly realised that there was one final thing remaining in this week’s desecrated and cancelled diary. It was The Pirates of Penzance, at the London Coliseum, home of the English National Opera. It is playing until 25 March, so you have plenty of time to go and see it.


I did not have plenty of time as it was 1.30 already and my ticket was for the show starting at three. I took 2 minutes to debate whether I felt well enough, then I sprayed around some deodorant, pulled on some clothes and went out.

As all readers know, Pirates is an 1897 comic opera. I will attempt to describe the story to you, and you will see how lightly comical it is.

Frederic is a young man who has spent his entire life as an indentured servant, that is, a slave. To some pirates. At age 21, he sees an opportunity to leave them. Throughout all these years, just one person has been a comfort to him and this is his former nanny and ship’s maid, Ruth, who is now 47. She proposes to escape the pirates with him and perhaps they can get married.

He treats her absolutely appallingly, shows no trace of loyalty or affection and tells her that’s she’s an ugly old woman with grey hair. She cries. He is unmoved.

Then Frederic spots a group of young women in the distance, and the band of pirates spots them too. Frederic immediately falls in love with one of them because he has the emotional depth of a saucer of milk. All the pirates are very excited at the sight of a dozen young girls because they represent an opportunity to ‘get married’, so they grab these screaming young woman and attempt to carry them off, apparently ‘get married’ means abduction and rape.

Then the girls’ father appears and he is some military bigwig who manages to persuade the pirates to release the girls. THEN it turns out that these pirates aren’t from the low genetic stock of ‘the common throng’. In fact, they are ‘noblemen’ which means they are titled, rich and posh. At this the military bigwig willingly hands over all his daughters like livestock because human trafficking is okay if it’s the aristocracy. The end.

Hmm. Anyway, it was a delightful production. My favourite character was the Pirate King, sung and acted by Ashley Riches. The obvious thing to do when portraying a pirate king would be to swagger and stamp about, probably waving a cutlass, right? But no. Ashley Riches fully takes to heart the underlying plot point that these pirates are actually pampered noblemen in disguise, and so his Pirate King is as camp as a row of tents. He minces up and down the stage, twitching his frilly coat and what is essentially a dress.

Photos of the theatre:

The performance I saw today was directed by British superstar Mike Leigh. Here are a couple of tiny clips.

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