SWASHThe Essex Group
at the Public Hall, Witham
A world première at the Public Hall.
A colourful crowd-pleaser from the Essex Group ,which would fit neatly into the increasingly popular Summer Panto genre, were it not for some ripe pirate expletives.
The book, by the indefatigable Gary Sullivan, who also directed the show and starred as a Pugwash Pirate King [Horney by name], tells the unlikely story of two pirate bands, one of each gender, who begin as hated rivals but find love and gold on Paradise Island.
WS Gilbert is never far away, and is referenced and quoted more than once. Spamalot is cited as an influence, too. Ashton Moore's accomplished music, though, ranges much more widely, with many hit musicals from Lloyd Webber to Les Mis affectionately parodied.
The men and the maids are already paired up by the interval, and some of the second half seems like treading water, though the pace picks up again with a series of short, snappy scenes and a stonking finale. And the lyrics, and the book, with its verbose flights of imagery and insistent smut, are not always as polished as the music.
But luckily Sullivan has an excellent cast at his command. All the pirates and piratesses are given amusing names, and, often, comic characters to go with them. Too many to credit here, but bouquets to Sue Cawley, channelling Carol Channing in a superb performance as Corsetta Basque, to Sean Hynes as Brollie Drip, who was equally impressive in ballet, backing group and banter [and doesn't really fall down on his innuendo], and to Jackie Parry, a consummate comedienne in the role of Gertrude, the Ruth of this version, a hideous grotesque - “When Will I Ever Find A Man”, she warbles in a delicious pastiche.
The lovers – Young John Thomas and Rosie Petal - were beautifully played, and sung, by Joe Baker and Charlotte Cavedasca, while Pastor and Brioche, the two French spies, with their mangled vowels, were well done by Tom Jervis and Josh Handley, who also helped out the Pirates when they were busy.
Great choreography by Hannah Fayers – there's even a tap routine - and excellent chorus numbers: the nine man opener, and the self-referencing Act One finale particularly impressive.
Carry On meets G&S – ridiculous plot and risqué humour – and all done with shameless charm and saucy style.