Hallett steals show with riveting performance

  • Back to their roots: Scenes from the Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of Pirates of Penzance

    Back to their roots: Scenes from the Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of Pirates of Penzance

As the president of Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Bermuda John Barnett has said, the society returned to their roots with the current staging of The Pirates of Penzance, a comic opera written by the name-sakes of the Society.

A comic opera, The Pirates of Penzance, or The Slave of Duty, is one of the many collaborations between Arthur Sullivan, who conceived the music, and WS Gilbert, who penned the libretto.

A rip-roaring tale of pirates on the run from the law, an assortment of urchins, a bevy of beautiful girls and with a love story at its heart, The Pirates of Penzance has the elements of great piece of entertainment.

With such stars of the Bermuda stage in the cast as Debbie Ratt and Carol Birch, along with the inimitable Alexander Damon Rosati playing Major-General Stanley of I am the very model of a modern major general fame, and the much-loved Alan Brooks as Sargent leading his animated band of Noddy-inspired coppers, the production was bound to be a success.

But add to that the talents of Mark Hamilton as a Captain Jack Sparrow-styled Pirate King and Adrian Kawaley-Lathan, who as Frederic danced, tumbled, fenced and romanced his way through the comic opera, the result is an enthusiastic romp through a tale that brings together the most unlikely of circumstances, throws them into a kaleidoscope, and spins it several times to come out with a happy ending.

But it was Paige Hallett, cast as Mable, one of Major-General Stanley’s remarkably large number of daughters and Federic’s love interest, whose star quality shone in this production. While among the youngest lead actors in the cast, she is described in the programme as having grown up in the theatre. An animated performer, she is riveting to watch as she captures her audience with a conspiratorial glance, an engaging smile or a swooning moment with young her swain.

She is a superb musician who handled the complexities of the music confidently, with panache and a strong, crystal clear voice that is a youthfully sweet, high soprano with a lovely natural vibrato. She led the famous song ‘Poor wander’ring one’ with a clear and defined sense of the waltz rhythm, and was able to change her sunny confidence for convincing sadness as she sang ‘Stay, Frederic, stay.’

This comic opera provides scene after scene of music and dancing, with choreographer and director Andrew Lynford deserving tremendous credit for choreography that derived inspiration from the famous Maori haka war dances, to Cossack dancing, and notably a fascinating and hilarious stilted interweaving of the policemen.

The seamless grace and sense of fun of the choreography throughout the performance was in no small part due to the cast who executed the dances in character, on script and with great flair. The stage was frequently abuzz with activity, with quirky little side-shows to the main action a recurring theme.

The sets were another highlight. Cleo Pettitt is the set designer and she incorporated the nautical tattoo in the design for the surround of the stage, using typical subject matter from ‘the girl back home’ to a detailed compass rose.

There were just two set changes – in the first act, the stage reflected a remote ocean shore, complete with banks of sabre-shaped waves in the background which allowed for some marine activities in the action including swimming and the inevitable shark chase.

The second act was set at night in a crumbling Gothic church ruin. The sets themselves carried on the strong lines of the tattoo ink style designs around the stage, and into etching, which reached a Zenith during the late Victorian period. It resulted in strong and confident sets that gave a sense of the period, while at the same time the cartoon quality of this genre lent to the impression of a production that is much larger than life.

Beautiful lighting was particularly evident in Act II, where night-time scenes were illuminated by a moon which softened the set to create an entirely different ambience.

The costumes were terrific – in keeping with the production, they were lively and great fun – and ranged from the typically attired pirates to Victorian maidens wearing the frills, lace and huge skirts of the period. The girls may have been traditionally attired, but in the first act also wore modern sneakers and sunglasses in an array of bright pastels. In the second act, the Major General and his daughters were all in their Victorian night clothes. The British bobbies were traditionally attired as well, but with huge moustaches attached to long handles held to their faces for a sense of the ridiculous.

In productions such as these, the orchestra seems in the background but it is the musicians who are the backbone of the action. And in The Pirates of Penzance, under the baton of Philip Schute, the musical director, they kept the operetta clipping along at an energetic trot, at the same time smoothly moving the mood with the dictates of the script.

Bermuda audiences expect all Gilbert & Sullivan Society productions to be of an excellent standard, and The Pirates of Penzance has lifted that standard higher still.

The Pirates of Penzance is currently playing at the Earl Cameron Theatre at City Hall in Hamilton until October 18. For more information go to www.gands.bm

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Published Oct 11, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 10, 2014 at 9:34 pm)

Hallett steals show with riveting performance

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