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From The York Herald, Wednesday, February 16, 1881.


The joint compositions of Mr. W. S. Gilbert and Mr. Arthur Sullivan invariably furnish something which theatre-goers can relish, and patrons of the York Theatre are indebted in the past to Mr. Waddington for his having provided them with the opportunity of seeing the successful "Sorcerer" and "H.M.S. Pinafore," both from the pens of the talented gentlemen named. This week we have for the first time here one of their latest and greatest successes, the "Pirates of Penzance."

The piece first saw the light about a year ago at a little theatre at Paignton, this being a preliminary performance in order to secure the copyright, and "The Pirates " then proceeded to New York, where the novelty met with an enormous success. It was produced in London, for the first time, in April last at the Opera Comique Theatre in the Strand, and the success which had attended it in America was equalled in the country of its birth. The provinces are now being favoured with its presence, and there is not the slightest doubt that all theatre-goers will not miss an opportunity of making themselves acquainted with it.

Mr. Gilbert's rich vein of satirical humour, and Mr. Sullivan's genial and tuneful music are fully realised in the “Pirates of Penzance." The libretto involves some amusing caricatures of old-fashioned, stilted melo-drama, and of the conventionalisms of opera-book-writing; and; as might be expected, abounds in sparkling word-play and jocularity which never exceeds the bounds of good taste. The piece is in two acts and two set scenes.

The plot may be thus briefly summarised:– Frederick, the hero, a pirate apprentice; has been left by his deceased father to the care of his nurse, Ruth, with injunctions to have him bound apprentice to a pilot; but she, mistaking her instructions, apprentices her charge to a pirate. The young man has such a strong sense of duty that, although detesting his enforced oocupation, he serves his master faithfully. At the beginning of the first act Frederick's time is about to expire, and he tells his chief that his future life will be devoted to the destruction of the band. Ruth (now become a pirate maid-of-all-work), hearing of this decision, discloses her love for Frederick, but the disparity of their ages – twenty-one and forty-seven – is too much for the young hero, and he rejects the proposal. The pirates depart on an expedition, and while they are absent a troop of beautiful girls, daughters of Major-General Stanley, appear, and the eldest, Mabel, and Frederick fall mutually in love. At this juncture the pirates return and individually offer marriage to all the young ladies. Their sire appears on the scene and endeavours to save his daughters from their threatened fate, stating that he is an orphan, it
being a rule with these pirates never to molest orphans. The plea is admitted, and he and his daughters are set at liberty.

The second act takes place in a ruined chapel, on the estate of the Major-General, to which he repairs nightly in repentance for the falsehood he has told as to his orphanage. His daughters endeavour to assuage his grief, and Frederick assures him that he is taking measures for the immediate destruction of the pirate horde. Frederick being left alone, the Pirate Chief and Ruth appear from behind the ruins, the latter stating, in revenge for the rejection of her hand, she has disclosed to the pirates the fact that the young man was born on the 29th February in leap year, and consequently is little more than five instead of twenty-one years old, and that his pirate apprenticeship would not expire for many years. Frederick's strained sense of duty again comes into play, and he conscientiously discloses the fact that the Major-General is not an orphan, whereon the pirate vows vengeance and is about to take it when encountered by a body of police, who are at once defeated. The sergeant then calls on the pirates to surrender in the name of Queen Victoria, and is answered by their immediate submission. Explanations ensue, and the pirates prove to be "nearly all” noblemen “who have gone wrong." As they are "thoroughly reformed" there is no objestion to their alliance with the Major-General's numerous daughters; and all pair off accordingly. Such is a mere outline of the farcical incidents so cleverly filled in by Mr. Gilbert, each absurd situation eliciting roars of laughter.

The music of "The Pirates of Penzance" is even more successful than Mr. Sullivan's "Pinafore” or "Sorcerer," and abounds with genuine comic humour, untinged with coarseness or undue flippancy, and some of the passages are full of charming poetical sentiment. The choruses were perhaps as admirable a part of the performance as anything, and the orchestra was augmented and satisfactorily filled.

As to the cast, Miss Laura Clement had the character of Mabel, the Major-General's daughter, assigned to her, and with a pleasing presence and tasteful get-up, together with a charming soprano voice, she gained for herself a deservedly hearty reception. Miss Augusta Roche, as Ruth, the Pirate maid-of-all-work, acted remarkably well, and gave her declamatory music very effectively. Mr. Gerard Coventry sustained the rôle of the Pirate apprentice in a creditable manner, and his light tenor was well suited to the music allotted him. The Pirate King was represented by Mr. G. W. Marnock, and he gave his music with considerable spirit. Mr. David Fisher, junr., was an excellent Major-General Stanley, and his mixture of dry humour and caricatured military sternness were happily combined. Mr. George Marler undertook the character of the Serjeant of Police, and was very well received. The attendant police assumed a good combination of humour and solid official gravity. All the police music is exceedingly comic. The remainder of the characters were as follow and were well filled:– Samuel, pirate lieutenant, Mr. W. T. Hemsley; Edith, Miss Clara Merivale; Kate, Miss Lucy Millais, and Isabel, Miss Ethel Maribel.

The dresses are rich and well contrasted, and in some of the groupings have a very picturesque appearance. The two scenes are very beautiful – a rocky seashore on the coast of Cornwall and the chapel ruins. These have been painted by Mr. W. T. Hemsley, the well-known scenic artist. It is somewhat singular that in the cast for the "Pirates" is a gentleman of the same name as the artist, but they are strangers to each other.

The opera was preceded by the pleasant vaudeville, “In the Sulks," written by Mr Frank Desprez, with lively music by Mr. A. Cellier; the characters sustained by Miss Clara Merivale, Mr. Louis Herbert, and Mr. W. T. Helmsley.

There was a very good house on Monday evening, despite the continuous downpour of rain and the wretched state of the streets. The audience were enthusiastic in their tokens of approval, and encores were frequent. Altogether the performance was a great success, and we opine that there will be a rush for seats during the remainder of the week. We observe that in addition to the evening performance there will be a "morning performance” on Saturday next at half-past two. Last night the pit was crowded, and the other parts of the house were well occupied.

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