1947; The Pirates of Penzance
The most remarkable feature of this production was what one might term its "universality." The whole School took it to ~ heart, gave advice, whistled the airs, and even the prefects, those lords of creation, might sometimes be detected humming a tune from this most tuneful opera. By the end of last term interest had increased tenfold, and the actual production was very well attended by members of the School as well as by their parents. I am told that this last production was better than that in 1936; being unable to compare myself. I can only say that this one was excellent.
'The opera itself is admirably suited for a school production: it demands a large cast, little scenery, a modicum of acting ability, and the all-important period costume which does so much to transform schoolboys into elegant young ladies. The scenery was sufficient to suggest the location without crowding it with unnecessary detail; it was greatly enhanced by the use of an effective cyclorama. Thanks are due to Mr. Starbuck for his hours of work on the scenery and to Mr. Brobyn for his excellent lighting effects. The make-up and costumes could hardly have been improved. Mr. Hyde, the producer, who was unfortunately ill for part of the term, managed his side of the production admirably.'
The chorus work, apart from an occasional incoherence, was excellent. The girls' chorus, in particular, almost stole the show, for their choruses were sung with a natural grace and charm that appealed greatly to the audience. An air of abandon marked the pirates' chorus and was fully in keeping with their part. They sang well, as did the chorus of police, which, however, detracted from its performance on Friday and Saturday by an inclination towards over-emphasis notable in one or two members. Their acting tended to be overdone in places, and thus lost some of its effect. It should be remembered that Gilbert and Sullivan are restrainedly funny; their humour lies more in delicate wit, choice of word and the suggestion of the music than in mere buffoonery.
Among the principals I selected Thurbon (playing RUTH) as giving the best individual performance, both for singing and acting. Not only was his voice clear and his singing effortless, he knew just the right qualities of wistfulness and expression for his part. He was clearly audible throughout the hall and his voice maintained a most pleasing tone. Chaplin (as the Pirate King) also possesses these qualities of good tone and audibility which are the aims of every singer. When Chaplin and Thurbon combined forces, the effect could hardly have been surpassed by professional singers.
Davies deserves special mention because of his good performance as MABEL and also because he undertook this difficult role at very short notice (a fact that was not generally known and could with advantage have been announced at each performance). Considering that he had only a fortnight to learn the part, his performance was really brilliant, and any that may have censured his acting will find here the reason for his omission of the finer points of expression. He is to be congratulated on his success in a part of great technical difficulty.
Round was adequate in his role as FREDERICK, showing to best advantage in his duet with MABEL and in his solo. His singing at times was a little forced and his tone suffered in consequence. This flaw was offset by his faultless acting. Collins slightly marred a fine performance as the SERGEANT by a proneness to overacting, a lead which was, most unfortunately, followed by the police chorus. On Wednesday and Thursday his performance was restrained and suitable, but on Friday and
Saturday he tended to exaggerate the humour of the part. His voice, nevertheless, was admirable in tone and power - it was, indeed, one the best in the cast.
Efficient in their parts were Brown (the MAJOR-GENERAL) and Harpin (Sam). The girls' chorus was ably led by Collins (EDITH), who showed an enjoyment of his part that could not fail to please.
TATE (Mills) sang well, but acted somewhat stiffly.
The whole cast was supported by an excellent orchestra, which was, with the exception of the leader Mr. Adler, entirely amateur. It was ably conducted by Mr. Belchambers, the musical director. Special praise is due to Mr. Norman Bignell, who never failed to attend a rehearsal even when the times were inconvenient for him.
The Headmaster on the last night of The Pirates' of Penzance congratulated the whole cast and all who had been concerned in the production. Seldom before, in fact, has the School enjoyed greater success than in this popular production of one of Gilbert and Sullivan's best known operas.
The excellence of the Operatic Society's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's opera came as a considerable surprise to many who saw it. Many people had felt that the Society had "bitten off more than it could chew," and could only hope the production would not be too bad. How wrong they were was proved by the acclaim of four different audiences.
The Pirates owed its triumph to a happy combination of the efforts of a great many people. Firstly, much of its success was derived from the excellence of the setting. The scenery was simple but most effective, creating just the impression required, while the lighting and in particular the cyclorama suited the subject in a truly professional style.
The orchestra, under the leadership of Mr. Belchambers, performed admirably and their success gives an indication of the efforts they must have made in rehearsing. Their task was one to attract many kicks but few halfpence. If one can criticise then it can only be to say that at times they tended to drown the rather thin voices of the "girls."
The very large cast was on the whole well managed, although at times one felt they had been grouped a little too obviously. The greatest praise is due to the "girls" who ravished the hearts of many of the audience. As one visitor remarked:
"They were more girlish than girls." And, indeed, there were only a few mistakes in their bearing. The pirates were quite piratical but lacked ease a little-however, they provided a good chorus. The policemen were the comic highlights of the show and in their appearance would have done credit to New Scotland Yard itself!
To attempt to criticise the characters is to play with fire since opinions have varied so much. Thurbon's Ruth, "piratical maid-of-all-work," was natural and unforced, with the voice carried clearly in a hall which is acoustically bad, gave what was the best performance of any of the girls. In considering the heroine it is to be remembered that Davis undertook the part barely a fortnight before the performance With this handicap his performance was excellent though had some difficulty in reaching the highest notes. Ifor Davis's departure to live in Wales is a minor tragedy for the School. Collins as Edith impressed everyone with his becoming smile and natural ease, while Twyman made an attractive Isabel.
Round as Frederick was the best of the cast in the opinion of many people. A fine tenor voice, considerable acting ability and undeniable good looks made him admirably suited to his part. It is to be regretted that he and Davis never felt equal to giving an encore of their duet in the second act. Chaplin was confident in his portrayal of the Pirate King and deserves the highest congratulation. Collins gave what was nearly a perfect interpretation of the Sergeant, but unfortunately marred his performance by a tendency to over-act. Harpin as Sam was adequate but his part did not allow his ability sufficient scope. Brown, who may be an indifferent singer, certainly made a superb Major-General. His solo ("I am the very model a model major-general") in the first Act was one of the highlights of the production.
But it is hardly fair to praise individuals too much. The production was a success wrought by a group of people many whom were never, or hardly ever, seen by the audience. Mrs. Curl and Mrs. Belchambers; Miss Lee and Miss Holme; Messers Belchambers, Brobyn, Buck, Honer, Hyde, Lidbury, Rayner and Starbuck. On the whole the writer - originally a sceptic - can only praise the production which he believes reached if not not surpassed, the standard of any previous School performance. In conclusion, he must regret that the Head's singing ability - only revealed at the end of the last performance - was not discovered earlier!
Keith J Bridge