Tag Archives: Sasha Regan

“The Pirates of Penzance” at the Palace Theatre

Sasha Regan’s all male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas have a loyal following. For full disclosure, I consider myself such a fan so an effort at an impartial blog is tricky. And after such a terrible year for the theatre, seeing one of Regan’s shows is an especial treat. A theatrical highlight of 2020, well, that isn’t saying much… but this show is perfection any year.

The genius behind Regan’s productions (I told you I was biased) is a sense of fun and innocence. The shows are stripped back to basics with fantastic charm. Robyn Wilson-Owen’s design has make do and mend creativity. The brilliant costumes aren’t really drag; they deliberately look like something grabbed from a costume box. And the music comes from just a piano, with Richard Baker’s fantastic musical direction making the most of Sullivan’s tunes. 

That ‘g’ word

A campy sense of humour works with Gilbert’s topsy-turvy scenarios and distinctive satire. We can laugh at the Victoriana… but remember, that’s what Gilbert was doing too. It’s unusual to see a radical version of a classic that will appeal so to traditionalists. I feel like using the ‘g’ word again.

The special treat for this event is seeing the show in such a large venue. Regan’s base is the tiny Union Theatre and although the shows have successfully toured, and found a second home at Wilton’s Music Hall, the majestic Palace Theatre is a much larger venue. There’s a fantastic appeal in seeing a piece that deflates pomposity in such a grand setting. Given that the high tech set for the Harry Potter blockbuster is still visible, the feeling that a troupe have cheekily sneaked on to the stage is enchanting.

A pretence of spontaneity to performances – offside remarks and deliberate gaffes – is, as such things have to be, cleverly rehearsed. The ensemble is enormously hard working, nearly all swapping roles at least once: adding to the fun as they play a pirate one moment and a lady the next.

The show’s leads are the final treat

The show’s leads are the final treat. It is a thrill to see them perform so masterfully on a large stage. Leon Craig as Ruth adds a touch of pantomime dame that is appropriate, while David McKenchie’s patter as the modern major general is spot on. Oliver Savile’s Pirate King is suitably swashbuckling, able to swish his coat tails masterfully.

Tom Senior’s performance as the “slave to duty” Frederic is truly special. Not only does Senior sound wonderful, he brings a sincerity to the role that demonstrates excellent acting skills. Frederick doesn’t think he’s a source of fun, even if the rest of us do. His love at first sight with Mabel ends up deeply moving as a result. As a final triumph for the show, Alan Richardson’s Mabel is breath-taking. Such an extraordinary voice is worth hearing at any opportunity. Richardson’s comic skills are a joy but, again, carefully controlled. We need to fall for Mabel just like Frederic does. That we do just that illustrates Richardson’s star quality; always at home on the West End stage and hopefully to be seen on one frequently in 2021.

Until 13 December 2020

www.nimaxtheatres.com

“The Pirates of Penzance” at Wilton’s Music Hall

Sasha Regan’s all-male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas are truly special. Starting at the Union Theatre a decade ago, receiving rave reviews from the beginning, the greatest success – so far – has been this comedy romance of sweet corsairs, beautiful sisters and bumbling authority figures. Having toured the world #PiratesIsBack returns to what must be the perfect venue for this five-star show.

So, what’s so great? While clever cynicism on stage is common, increasingly so with musicals, and is present here, Regan brings back an innocence that is enchanting. There’s nothing infantile about the show – Gilbert’s lyrics show a master of sarcasm and irony, while the class consciousness that he parodied in 1879, and throughout his career, makes him seem forward thinking. For all the childish fun, Gilbert takes a grown-up look at how silly the world is. Some 140 years later, Regan understands that. Look at the famous Major General role – pompous as ever, yet still endearing in David McKechnie’s fantastic interpretation. Or the lamenting policeman, led magnificently by Duncan Sandilands, getting a lot of laughs but also a touch of sympathy. And best of all the “Piratical Maid of all work” Ruth, a role that Alan Richardson, fresh from success in the West End – whose voice is truly sublime – saves from any trace of distasteful sexism with a performance that is as sensitive and empowering as it is funny.

David McKechnie as the Major General

Then there is a romance in the piece, a peculiar kind that feels out of time. This is, after all, a fairy-book story of love at first sight, no matter how tongue in cheek. James Thackeray masters the blend as the Pirate King who is sensitive yet still dashing and sure to steal hearts. The gallant Frederic and charming Mabel are made a gorgeous couple by Tom Senior and Tom Bales respectively. Senior actually manages to make you admire the character’s silly sense of duty. There’s a real sense of tenderness here that might very well bring a tear to your eye. Regan takes the love story seriously, no matter how old-fashioned the sentimentality, in a necessary leap of faith that allows it to work as theatre.

Tom Senior and Tom Bales

The stars are backed by a fantastic ensemble, with a real sense of camaraderie that must surely be credited to Regan. Their first switch from pirates to girls, giggling around the balcony, is divine. The air is one of improvisation, a sense of dressing up for fun with wooden swords and a broom for a horse, that takes us back to the basics of theatre. The rough-and-ready aesthetic of Wilton’s Music Hall complements this, as well as serving the acoustics brilliantly. All this belies the skill behind a top-notch production: Lizzi Gee’s ambitious choreography, the expert musical direction from Richard Baker (that transforms Sullivan’s orchestral score so perfectly) and Regan’s never-failing eye for detail. A lot of work goes into creating something that feels this spontaneous, that has such a sense of effortless energy, and the result is a joy that is contagious.

Until 16 March 2019

www.piratesisback.com

Photos by Scott Rylander

“H.M.S.Pinafore” at the Union Theatre

Given their success on London’s fringe theatre scene, Sasha Regan’s all male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan are much anticipated. Her latest, H.M.S. Pinafore, would seem a natural selection from the Victorian composer and lyricist’s opus – a story full of camp potential, with plenty of sailors and satire. The production lives up to expectations and also surprises.

Not content to rest on her reputation, Regan adds a sense of melancholy to the usual wit and fun. The cast are deliberately presented as though improvising, and so the production opens up some interesting questions: are we here to watch ‘real’ sailors aboard a ship, prisoners of war trying to alleviate boredom, or possibly children at a boarding school? It’s a brilliantly original twist that will win your heart.

Rough and ready staging becomes a powerful tool. So much is achieved with just ropes and kit boxes. The design from Ryan Dawson-Laight, full of inspired touches, including shirt collars used as millinery, contributes to making this show immediate and involving – bunk beds have never been this much fun. And that’s saying something.

From the heroic sailor Ralph, an appropriately dashing Tom Senior, fighting for his love to his Captain’s daughter Josephine, played by Bex Roberts (a  male  actor, to clarify), the cast sound fantastic. As her father the Captain, Benjamin Vivian-Jones is magnificent, bringing out the laughs and in fine voice. Ciarán O’Driscoll renders buttercup, the “plump and pleasing person” who is the key to the ‘topsy-turvy’ story, both loveable and formidable. Accounting for the highest and the lowest in this magnificent class comedy, Lee Van Geleen impresses with his fantastically powerful voice as the dastardly Dick Deadeye and David McKenchnie gives a superb comic performance as The Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B.

The inventive staging by Regan, along with fantastic choreography from Lizzi Gee, is a constant delight. The ensemble show their talent, morphing from exercising studs into the gaggle of “sisters, cousins and aunts” that accompany the Rt.Hon, for comic touches a plenty. Special note has to be given to be given to Richard Russell Edwards as Hebe, who can swoon with the best of them. And finally, underpinning all this is the musical adaptation from Michael England and Chris Mundy, extracting the spirit of the score with an intelligent transformation accommodating all male voices.

Even if you’re a G&S fan of a more traditional persuasion, you’re still going to love Regan’s work. There is a reverence here in the best sense of the word – a genuine enthusiasm and love of the piece that is infectious. This is one of the best shows I’ve seen this year and although it’s only November, and there are plenty of exciting things coming up, I doubt it will be bettered in 2013.

Until 30 November 2013

www.uniontheatre.biz

Written 4 November 2013 for The London Magazine

“Patience” at the Union Theatre

Sasha Regan’s all-male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas have become much-anticipated events. And rightly so. Regan’s direction breaths life into G&S in a manner that retains respect for the classics she is dealing with. Patience follows the successful formula: presenting a silly story of love amongst poets, with a milk maid and dragoons thrown in, that does justice to Gilbert’s contemporary satire while providing a knowing eye to what a modern audience might make of it all.

Sullivan’s take on satire was to mock everyone indiscriminately – being uniformly sarcastic somehow makes it seem fairer. The primary target in Patience was the Aesthetic movement, and there are plenty of reference to lilies and the like, but Regan effortlessly broadens the focus to pretentiousness and fashion in general. In so doing, she preserves and expands the show’s humour, ensuring that this is a night full of laughter.

The main character, Bunthorne, a sham aesthete who confesses “my medievalism’s affectation, born of a morbid love of admiration”, is played marvellously by Dominic Brewer, who takes lyrics such as these into his appropriately elongated stride. Followed around by a troupe of smitten maidens, played by an ensemble of uniformly admirable young performers, Bunthorne’s heart belongs to Patience, a young girl confused by the fuss everyone makes about love.

Following topsy-turvy logic, Patience decides the best way to make her love a sacrifice, a key element to its being Aesthetic, is to marry someone she dislikes, so she ignores her true love for the narcissistic Adonis Grosvenor. Edward Charles Bernstone gives an immaculate, intelligent performance in the title role, while the startling Stiofàn O’Doherty is perfectly cast as Grosvenor.

As well as followers of fashion, Sullivan has an eye on the establishment with a troop of dragoons, the residuum of all that is noble in British manhood. There are sterling performances here from both Edward Simpson and Matthew James Willis, who bring out the wit in Drew McOnie’s choreography and whose strong voices highlight another reason why Patience is so good.

This is a musical, after all, and the splendidly subtle musical direction from Richard Bates, with additional input from Michael England, is just as much a star of the show. Accompanying the performance on only a piano and allowing plenty of a capella makes the most of the remarkable voices on offer, ensuring the show is something to be heard as well as seen.

Until 10 March 2012

www.uniontheatre.biz

Written 22 February 2012 for The London Magazine

“Iolanthe” at the Union Theatre

Gilbert and Sullivan are a guilty pleasure. Those confessing admiration can face polite confusion or, at worst, a disdain that might suggest S&M is more acceptable than G&S. There have been many attempts to change opinions about Gilbert and Sullivan but none more liberating than Sasha Regan’s work at the Union Theatre. Her new production of Iolanthe continues this campaign – it is joyous, fun and simply unmissable.

Iolanthe is quite as silly as any other G&S. It’s the one about fairies and the House of Lords. With Regan’s trademark all-male cast, you can imagine where this is heading. But Regan is too clever a director to make things crass, no matter how camp they become. With a nod to Narnia, the action takes place at a school and the magic begins when the costume wardrobe is opened.

This isn’t Gilbert and Sullivan forced into the 21st century. Regan’s masterstroke is not to patronise these eminent Victorians. Gilbert’s satire is still razor sharp and Sullivan’s uncanny ability to write a popular tune ageless. Regan brings out the humour and Chris Mundy’s solo piano accompaniment is a superb interpretation of the score.

The real pay off comes not from innuendo but from sincerity. Victorians could be soppy and G&S were no exception. But Regan allows this so that, behind the laughs, this Iolanthe is sweat. With fairies dressed in furs and pearls and lords wearing conker chains of office, you smile all the way through, while the sentiment washes over you. It is a combination that can only be described as sophisticated.

There is a palpable sense of excitement from a talented cast. Christopher Finn takes the title role in his stride and Shaun McCourt deals impeccably with the Lord Chancellor’s tongue-tying lyrics. It is great to see Alan Richardson at the Union once more. His terrific voice is matched by an endearing stage presence. Kris Manuel is unforgettable in the role of the Fairy Queen, while Matthew James Willis’s Harry Potter-inspired Earl, and Raymond Tait as Private Willis, show off their voices particularly well.

This really is an ensemble piece, as the cast all perform in the equally fantastic realms of the supernatural and the political. As both tripping fairies and noble lords they faultlessly do justice to Mark Smith’s witty choreography. Like the whole production, Smith’s work isn’t just delightful – it is bold and interesting. His use of sign language in dance creates a new level of meaning that complements the humour and excitement of the piece. Regan should join her team on stage as they hold their heads up high when the lords all marry and become fairies themselves! Gilbert and Sullivan fans can come out of the closet at last.

www.uniontheatre.biz

Until 11 December 2010

Photo by Ben de Wynter

Written 23 November 2010 for The London Magazine