The Pirates of Penzance: Musical maestros’ work still popular all over the world

The Pirates of Penzance is at the Desborough Suite in Maidenhead Town Hall from Wednesday, May 17 – Saturday, May 20

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The Pirates of Penzance: Musical maestros’ work still popular all over the world

Posh pirates and modern major generals will descend on Maidenhead for the latest production by the Maidenhead Operatic Society.

More than 130 years since it had its debut performance in London, the amateur group is reviving the Gilbert and Sullivan classic, Pirates of Penzance. And despite its age it remains a firm favourite for performers and audiences alike.

“I think there’s two reasons why Gilbert and Sullivan are still so popular,” said chorus member Jacqui O’Brien.

“First of all, you’ve got some great music in it. Secondly, it’s just really funny – the jokes are timeless.

“That’s the thing about it, they don’t seem to age and they don’t really seem to be particularly of their era either.”

It’s not just on these shores though that the work of the musical maestros remains popular.

The plays, operas and musicals remain popular around the world – arguably one of Britain’s most successful exports.

“One of the things people love about it is that it is very British and in a lot of ways it’s old fashioned too, but it is still quintessentially British,” says Jacqui.

“It’s also poking fun at a lot of British institutions – a lot of which are still here.

“Americans tend to love all things British, especially the royal family, and for years I’ve been going to the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, in Harrogate, and there’s always a lot of Americans there too who come over to see it.”

In recent years the play’s popularity across the Atlantic has often been greater than in its native country, something often ascribed to its opera tag.

But Jacqui remains unconvinced by that argument, adding: “There’s no women in helmets here, unless Gilbert and Sullivan are taking the mick, which they do a lot.

“It might put some people off, but the tunes are so timeless and popular and a lot of people probably know the tunes without people realising it.

“For example, Modern Major General, which is spoofed so much.”

The popularity of the show itself is also plain by the number of people involved in the production. And she thinks there’s a strikingly simple explanation for that.

“There’s 45 people in the cast, it’s massively popular and it’s a lively thing to perform,” she added.

“And although often groups struggle to attract men to perform, we’ve got a lot for this – probably because they get to dress up as pirates.”

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