The Pirates of Penzance review – precise patter aplenty in Mike Leigh revival

Coliseum, London
ENO’s surefooted return for Leigh’s 2015 Gilbert and Sullivan production has a cast richly decked with boastful pirates and a proto-Wagnerian police chief

When Mike Leigh’s production of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera was first seen, in 2015, traditionalists found the abstraction of Alison Chitty’s sets disappointing, while others missed the kind of radical reimagining that distinguished Jonathan Miller’s now classic Mikado, originally staged in 1986.

But if the visuals – orthodox costumes apart – seem curiously non-specific, what happens within them in the show’s first revival is more focused. Francesca Jaynes’s choreography is unfussy but effective, with the chorus going through their cockamamie routines surefootedly, while G&S aficionado Leigh’s overall direction, as reprised here by Sarah Tipple, ensures that the absurd yet utterly logical twists and turns of Gilbert’s plot register as clearly as his precisely honed dialogue.

Sullivan’s clean-limbed score is well served, too. Gareth Jones conducts adeptly. Mabel’s flights of coloratura fancy are elegantly delivered by Soraya Mafi, with David Webb providing keen tenorial definition in his portrayal of the insistently upright Frederic – the Slave of Duty of the opera’s subtitle. As the Pirate King, Ashley Riches combines flair with fanfaronade, while Lucy Schaufer’s rich mezzo helps her garner bags of audience sympathy as the cruelly slighted Ruth.

In the lead comic role of Major-General Stanley, Andrew Shore comes up with one of his more amiable old buffers, articulating even the most obscure references in his famous patter-song with point. John Tomlinson, meanwhile, brings an almost Wagnerian grandeur to his painfully pusillanimous Sergeant of Police.

Soraya Mafi as Mabel (centre) in the Pirates of Penzance.
Soraya Mafi as Mabel (centre) in the Pirates of Penzance. Photograph: Thomas Bowles


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