|The Pirates of Penzance > Reviews > Paignton Performance
MUSIC AND THE DRAMA
Yesterday afternoon Messrs. Sullivan and Gilbert’s new extravaganza “The Pirates of Penzance” was announced to be performed for the first time on any stage at the theatre of the little town of Paignton, in Devonshire. The representation was, of course, a purely formal one, and was in compliance solely with our curious copyright law, which declares that, to secure the various rights attending to it, a work by English subjects must be first performed in England. Therefore one of Mr. D’Oyley [sic.] Carte’s travelling companies was ordered to come across from Torquay, and, although the score was only expected by the Bothnia from New York yesterday, the provisions of the law will have been duly complied with. The new piece, which will not succeed “H.M.S. Pinafore” in this country till Easter, is a burlesque upon the sensational stories and the sensational melodramas of the present day. The bold pirate is represented as a very effeminate individual, who woos the daughter of a Major-General — a part, by the way, destined to be played here by Mr. George Grossmith. A policeman, a former nurse of the pirate, and two or three subordinate buccaneers also figure in the dramatis personæ. The piece will be produced next Saturday [sic.] at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York — Mr. Arthur Sullivan conducting.
From The Daily News, Monday, January 5, 1880
The performance of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan’s new comic opera at Paignton on Tuesday last attracted an audience which, under the circumstances, may be said to have been considerable. Forty-seven persons in all attended this curious “first night,” or about sufficient to fill one row of stalls at Covent Garden Theatre. It may interest some readers to learn that the total money paid for seats on the occasion amounted to 3l. The musical score having only arrived in England on the previous day it was not possible that the interpretation it received could be entirely satisfactory; but the company which had come over from Torquay for the purpose are a very efficient little troupe, well known in provincial towns as Mr. D’Oyly Carte’s Pinafore Company; and the whole of the music and words were got through with creditable success. From a cable message just received from New York we learn that “The Pirates of Putney” [sic.] was produced under every advantage, and with complete success, at the Fifth Avenue Theatre on Wednesday night, and has since been played to crowded audiences. Its first performance in London will await the return to England of Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Sullivan. It is expected to take place at Easter.
From The Era, Sunday, January 4, 1880
GILBERT AND SULLIVAN’S NEW OPERA
The long-expected new comic opera, written by Mr. W. S. Gilbert and composed by Mr. Arthur Sullivan, has been produced at last, but in a locality where few London playgoers were likely to witness the performance. We venture to say there were few admirers of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan who anticipated that their new comic opera would be first given so far from the Metropolis as Paignton, where it was produced on Tuesday afternoon last with the greatest success. The new opera, which is entitled The Pirates of Penzance; or, Love and Duty, is to be produced in grand style at the Fifth-avenue Theatre, New York, and the performance at Paignton, of course, was only to satisfy the requirements of the law. Nevertheless, the work, even in this far-off place, was greeted with the most enthusiastic marks of approval, and there is little doubt that when it is heard in London another remarkable success will be scored for the accomplished author and equally talented composer.
The Bijou Theatre, Paignton, is not a very elaborate temple of the drama, and it could hardly be expected, especially at this time of year, that a large audience would be present. A public performance being necessary, a public performance was given, and here and there on lonely posts, and by the side of forlorn outhouses, might be seen some buff-coloured bills announcing the fact that Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance would be given at the Bijou Theatre, Paignton, on Monday. It was not, however, performed until Tuesday afternoon. Possibly the legal authorities will not make a quibble out of this fact to furnish new materials for gentlemen of the long robe to discuss. Messrs. Ralph Horne and Herbert Brook are the Managers of the Bijou Theatre. The prices of admission, we may here remark, are not less modest than the name inscribed over the portals of the Theatre, being for sofa stalls, 3s.; second seats. 2s.; area, 1s.; and gallery, 6d.
Under the circumstances, the rehearsals of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan’s work, by Mr. D’Oyly Carte’s company from Torquay for the occasion, could not be of the careful kind which a piece of some importance demanded. Nevertheless, it was generally well rendered, and the following is the plot:–
The hero of the piece is a young pirate named Frederick [sic.], whose father died when he was very young, and who left him in the care of a nurse name Ruth, to whom he gave instructions that she was to bind her charge apprentice to a pilot. The nurse, however, mistook the word, and bound Frederick to the Pirate King. The hero, under a high sense of duty, but abhorring his calling, serves his apprenticeship faithfully. The first act opens on the last day of his servitude, and he then tells the pirate chief that in the future he will devote his life to the extermination of the band. His nurse, hearing of his determination, discloses her love for him; but, he being only twenty-one years of age and she forty-seven, he declines to marry her. The pirates leave the cave on an expedition, and while they are away a number of girls, the daughters of a Major-General, appear on the scene, and the eldest, named Grace [sic.] immediately falls in love with Frederick, and he with her. While the love-making proceeds the pirates return, and a most laughable scene, which is likely to be received with the greatest favour by London audiences takes place. The “rovers of the sea” make offers of marriage to the whole of the young ladies, requesting them in a body, or rather in their several bodies, to become “pirates’ brides;” but the Major-General appears on the scene, and attempts to save his children by declaring himself an orphan, being aware that the pirates have taken a solemn vow never to injure an orphan. The Major-General’s effort is successful, and his daughters are permitted to retire. So ends the first act, the opera being, like its lively predecessors, in two.
The second opens in the ruins of an ancient chapel, where the Major-General goes every night as an act of penance for the “awful crammer” he has told the pirates as to his being an orphan. His daughters are endeavouring to console him, while Frederick informs him that he has determined to exterminate the pirates. When Frederick is left alone the Pirate King and the nurse emerge from the ruins, and the latter informs him that, owing to his refusing her, she has disclosed the secret of his birth, which was that lie was born in leap-year, and on the 29th day of February, and that, therefore, in the ordinary course of things instead of his being twenty-one years of age, he was only a, little over five years; and, that consequently, the term of his apprenticeship would not expire until the year 1940. Seeing that he was in duty bound to return to his pirate life, he discloses the fact that the Major-General was not an orphan; whereupon the Pirate King swears to take the old man’s life, and shortly returns to carry out the threat. But the pirates are met by a body of police, whom they soon put to flight. The Sergeant, however, tells them that their victory will be short-lived, and calls on them to surrender in the name of Queen Victoria, to which the pirates reply by singing the song “Queen Victoria,” the magic of whose name is so great that the pirates at once yield, saying they can no longer resist its spell, nor would if they could.
Mr D’Oyly Carte’s company had been playing H.M.S. Pinafore with great success at the Lyceum Theatre, Torquay, where, at the Queen’s Hotel, they were entertained at Mr. D’Oyly Carte’s expense on Christmas Day.
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