I never thought I’d coin the term ‘opera dominatrix’ and yet here we are, Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2018 and BK Opera are presenting Pirates of Penzance, only this isn’t the version your grandmother took you to see when you were a kid, it’s the everyone in your undies, whips and bondage kind of adults only show… except it’s much more tame than that.
Bringing Gilbert and Sullivan into the modern era, it includes a dig about Trump in a revised verse of ‘I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General’, the square of the hypotenuse actually assembled on stage using bodies, and stronger, more independent female characters that think quickly on their feet. Peppered with sexual tension so thick and awkward you could try and cut it with a knife, the show’s novelty factor wears off quickly for me but audience members seem to genuinely enjoy it, and each time the idea of it being an ‘adults only’ show fades away, it’s brought back in less than subtle but fun new ways – the cast stripping off, Mabel tying Frederic up and whipping him and making him submit, some openly same sex attracted moments or flirting that Gilbert and Sullivan never would have imagined in their show. It’s sure to get audiences laughing and open mouthed in shock.
The voices in this cast are the knock out element of this show – all experienced opera singers. The contrast between the purity and strength of their voices and their camp, tacky, shiny costumes and mannerisms in this new take on the show is real, and it is a divine contrast. Belinda Dalton soars (almost too high and too loud) above the cast, portraying Mabel as entitled, full of herself and controlling, but still a confident and strong young woman. Stephen Carolane is a crystal clear, note perfect portrayal of Frederic, an awkward but well meaning pirate caught up in the idea of doing what is right.
Henry Shaw is memorable as a high pitched, camp as Samuel, and Beth Paterson breathes new life into her portrayal of the Modern Major General (or Genevieve pretending to be their father).
There are many an opening night stumble or nerve, but at the heart of this show is what is at the heart of every good community theatre piece – everyone on stage is having a ball, is committed and the audience have come to support them, leading to a fantastic supportive vibe in the room.
The shortened version strips away many of the verses in the shows, as well as a lot of the character development, but it still feels like a well rounded (and long show) for it’s reduced duration. The choreography is ambitious for the small space but carried off well by the cast, there are some amazing a Capella moments, closing Act 1, but there are also scenes like anything involving the police and sergeant that stick out like a sore thumb, for lack of volume, pace, conviction and energy.
The most disappointing element of the show is the lack of lighting on stage – only the back half of the stage is lit, meaning that most of the show, and most of the major moments and solo songs take place in shadow, meaning the cast do not get to deliver their full glory. The piano is also too quiet and doesn’t help the cast fill the space
The intention of the show was to present the show in a new light and to have a whole lot of fun, cast and audience, and they achieved this in spades. Sadly, this hot mess of a musical theatre classic has already closed, playing only a brief and fleeting four shows at Kindred Studios. BK Opera’s 2018 season continues this year with Mozart’s Abduction in July and a double bill of Gluck operas in November – the cast and company have proven themselves as one to watch for doing opera a little differently.
More info: www.bkopera.com.au/