Music Box: Director brings fresh view of Pirates

A NEW production of The Pirates of Penzance gets this year’s International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Buxton under way on Saturday and it will also end the event on August 20.

The staging, the first of four offerings from the G&S star-studded Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company, has an interesting look about it, not least as its director is relatively unfamiliar in the G&S environment of Buxton.

He is an American, Gary Slavin, whose primary activity in New York where he lives is directing musicals, although G&S has started to muscle in.

“I came to G&S entirely by accident,” he says in an interview on the festival’s website.

“Friends say of me that I will direct traffic if someone asks! So when a dear friend in New York, Joanne Lessner, told me that the Blue Hill Troupe was seeking a director for their spring Gilbert and Sullivan productions I threw my hat in the ring.

“My love of the works has developed directly out of bringing them to the stage and so far, in addition to Grand Duke, I’ve staged Pirates, Yeomen, Ida, Sorcerer, Gondoliers and Pinafore.”

His reference to The Grand Duke, more popular in America than in this country, stems from two previous visits to the festival, the first being in 2005 when the Blue Hill Troupe brought a production of it to Buxton.

The second was two years when he directed and choreographed a production of the same work by SavoyNet, the worldwide G&S discussion group that keeps in touch via the Internet.

He says: “Both productions garnered some awards and were both personally and artistically fulfilling,” and he has a highly quotable response to how he finds Buxton after the hustle and bustle of New York.

“A blessed relief! It’s the G&S equivalent of Brigadoon, it never fails to be magic, but it shows up every year!”

He has several thoughts as to why Pirates is so popular: “It might be that ear candy score; it might be that pirates are, by definition, fun to be around in a theatrical sense; it might be the buffoonery of certain civil servants; it might be the fact that it’s wonderfully funny – but, of course, at its heart, it is a love story.”

Regarding how his production will look and whether it will be traditional, he says: “One of the things I like most about doing shows like Pirates is finding opportunities for dancing, so that’s high on my list.

“Pretty traditional, I think, but I fully intend to see it through my own eyes and, with the company and designers, put our own unique stamp on it.

He has a fine cast to work with, including Simon Butteriss (Major General Stanley), James Cleverton (Pirate King), Bruce Graham (Sergeant of Police), Rebecca Bottone (Mabel) and Louise Crane (Ruth).

The conductor is Timothy Henty who has a passion for British light opera between 1871 and 1920 and who is not yet 30, but whose reputation continues to increase.

There are three performances of the Pirates production this weekend (details in Listings), with two further outings at 2.30pm and 7.30pm on August 7 and a final one at 7.30pm on August 20.

Bernard Lee