I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to see Caribbean Pirates at the Polly Woodside on Saturday. Nothing in the information I received explicitly said it was for children, but the times available (10am and 6pm) the fact that it is school holidays, and the description of ‘pantomime-esque’ certainly suggested it was aimed at children. Despite the fact that an adult accompanied me, rather than a child (I suspect we may have been the only unaccompanied ‘grown ups’ there) we both found the show quite entertaining.
The creative team and cast have done a wonderful job of balancing the over the top energy, hammy acting and general silliness for the kids, with a steady supply of jokes aimed well over the children’s heads. All of the children in attendance were vocal in their enthusiasm and engagement, and there was steady laughing from the adults too. Sometimes at the antics of the kids, and sometimes at the actors! A couple of very vocal and confident children derailed the action a couple of times, but the ‘Pirate Crew’ rolled with the punches and got things back on track, and seemed to enjoy the disruption. The plot unfolds primarily on a small stage in front of the ship, where the kids can sit on mats and get involved in the thick of the action, and the adults were seated on plastic chairs a little further back (and undercover in case of rain). Clever planning had the children up out of their seats and searching for gold and a treasure map around the docks, at just the time they may have been getting restless. The action then moved on board the ship itself, where the search continued, and the action proceeded, leading to swashbuckling and sea-monsters.
The cast consisted of Major Minor Key, played by Jon Peck, Captain Cutthroat played by Doru Surcel (who also Directed), Lucy Gransbury as Larry, Christina Marks as the Gypsy Pirate, Scurvy Dave portrayed by Andrew Kroenert, and Empty Drawer played by Casper Conrick. Peck and Conrick ‘warmed up’ the crowd, interacting with the kids before the show and getting them onside. The character of Major Key is central to the story, so Peck had a major (pardon the pun) role and he played it well. He was easy to hear and understand, projecting well (the only difficulty being when the frequent helicopters flew right overhead!). I did find the very upper crust accents used by Conrick and Peck to not be very piratical in nature – in fact, only Scurvy Dave and Captain Cutthroat really sounded like pirates. Surcel, as Cutthroat, had some of the children quite scared on a few occasions. All of the cast projected quite well, and I had no issues understanding any of the dialogue, but Gransbury appeared to be straining to be heard, especially in her song at the end. I suspect with 2 shows a day, after several days she may be struggling with her voice. Performing outdoors, with low flying helicopters and loud pedestrians on the riverbank to compete with, is a very demanding environment.
The show included several songs, which were probably the weakest areas. Most of them contained a lot of lyrics, squashed into not enough music, and this was the only time it was hard to catch all the words. During the songs, I doubt the children took in much of the content, which in some cases was vaguely educational (a song about all the places and cultures pirates came from) or furthering the story, and weren’t well enough written or sung to be particularly entertaining for their musicality. But they generally contained a chorus that the kids could get into, and at one stage, lyrics were provided on a board which had the audience joining in loudly, which formed a natural build to the finale. The songs fitted well with the pantomime feel of the show, and shouldn’t be judged too harshly by this music theater fan.
Caribbean Pirates delivered all you could want of such a show. It kept children of various ages engaged and entertained for an hour, while not leaving their parents bored. It gave the audience a chance to explore a historic vessel and participate in some interactive theatre, and a good time was had by all, me hearties!