Pirates of Penzance – a review

Pirates of Penzance


On Sunday, February 26, the Musical Society of Nigeria performed the comic opera, the Pirates of Penzance, by Gilbert and Sullivan.

The story centers around Frederic, a lad who was wrongly apprenticed to the pirates for 21 years by his maid, Ruth, having thought that his father requested she did so. Frederic’s father had requested that he be apprenticed to the Pilots and not Pirates. On completion of his 21 years of apprenticeship he abandoned Ruth for the very fair and beautiful Mabel, the daughter of Major-General Stanley, and the two young people fell instantly in love. I was full of pity for the 47 year old Ruth (with all her attempts to convince Frederic that she was just 42) whose beauty cannot compete with that of Mabel or any of the other 9 daughters of the General. Faced with the same decision, I would do the same thing that Frederick did, go for the beautiful Mabel. Who wouldn’t?

Frederic finds out,later and much to his distaste, that having been born on 29 February, technically, he only has a birthday each leap year. His apprenticeship indentures state that he remains apprenticed to the pirates until his 21st birthday (and not his 21st year, a most ingenious paradox!) and so he must serve for another 63 years. Bound by his own sense of duty, Frederic’s only solace is that Mabel agrees to wait for him faithfully.

The performance, by MUSON, was generally fair. Given the parlor equipment and the theater they had to work with, they made the best use of these. I do have my reservation with the dressing of the pirates, I am sure the African Pirates on the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Guinea will protest vehemently that they dress better than this. The rubber rain boots worn by the pirates of penzance were just odd and it wasn’t that we cannot get better boots for pirates in Nigeria. However, the maidens, daughters of the General, were gorgeous in their dressing and general appearance.

The Shell Nigeria Hall of the Muson center was a little bit better than the last time my family visited – this time, the air conditioning worked though not as cool as desired. The decoration of the hall was modest for the event but I still get challenged that there are no curtains on the stage, to separate one Act from another.

Someone had said that within pirates, even there are codes of honor, one naturally find the codes of honor of the Pirates of Penzance amusing. With codes that state –
1. You cannot rob those who are weaker than you and
2. You should not take advantage of orphans
One wonders whether these guys are prepared for the business of piracy or are just Queen Victoria’s jesters on the coast of Cornwall.

The Muson Choir gave a good account of itself and the music director did beautifully well. The sonorous voice of Mabel was just enchanting and kept us all at awe. The policemen, with their colonial era batons just kept us all laughing – these guys were good comic, whether they knew what it takes to police and keep the pirates at bay, was another issue entirely. Their dressing was smart and the thought that kept going through my brain was that the Nigeria Police could actually learn a thing or two from these guys. At the minimum, the art of dressing smartly but could also add the knowledge of how to make a better mockery of itself in its faltering battle with men of the BokoHaram clan. Has anyone thought of the good that carrying batons, instead of guns, will do to our “Olopa” people?

Maybe it was just me, the white pirate really looked odd amongst the gang. Do we really need another white face to put some sign of acceptance to this play? I am sure the guy must have asked himself whether he was with the right crowd.

In totality, kudos to Muson for the opera – the seats were totally sold out. I will rate the entire theater experience 7/10.

Opportunities that I noted include:
1. The theatre could be made more friendly – provision of snacks such as popcorn, ice cream, drinks etc for audience to purchase would have helped, especially when you have children around.
2. Parking is a nightmare in Muson. This has improved with the extra parking space under the bridge but more parking spaces are needed.
3. The Shell Hall needs an upgrade. Sitting on plastic chair, in a theater, is unacceptable in the 21st century.
4. The Muson needs better publicity for its programs. Think of leaving your flyers in the eateries and other places frequently patronised by Lagosians.

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