The Pirates of Penzance

Sinking a Victorian classic

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

A COUPLE of years ago, Mike Leigh made a tremendous movie about Gilbert & Sullivan, called Topsy-Turvy. It was a true tribute to the great practitioners of 19th-century comic opera, capturing their intense but frustrated musical and literary talent, their satirical wit, their powerful Victorian streak of civic virtue, and the element of lush romanticism that underpinned all their plots.

No chance of any of that, though, in this touring production of Joseph Papp’s updated 1980 version of The Pirates of Penzance. No doubt when Papp first staged this show in New York and London it had some quality of cheek or chutzpah or pizzazz or irony or something that accounted for its success. But all that’s left now, in this 18-month-old London production, is a crass Broadway-style musical arrangement ground out by a seven-piece band, and the worst kind of smutty send-up of a historic piece of art, like a cross between an old Crackerjack sketch and a Gilbert & Sullivan night at a gay pub.

Two caveats: some of the cast - including Gary Wilmot’s beautifully sung Pirate King - battle on bravely through this avalanche of out-of-date raunchiness, and the packed audience absolutely adored the show, apparently so grateful to see Gilbert & Sullivan churned out by a professional company that they simply didn’t care how mangled it was . But here is my vow: if this ghastly show goes on to put ten million grateful bottoms on seats from here to Timbuktu I will never, at any price, be sitting through it again.

Until 3 November