Words by W.S. Gilbert and Music by Arthur Sullivan
The Guildhall,
March 1963
Cast List
Major-General Stanley
The Pirate King
Sergeant of Police

Notes on this performance

36. The Pirates of Penzance

To update or not to update…

In 1958 Alfred Tomalin had assured the membership, ‘The Society has always tried to give true representations on the lines that Gilbert & Sullivan themselves originated and will continue to do so in the years ahead.’ However, five years later his resolve was to be seriously tested since the works of G&S were now out of any licensing restrictions and the temptation to ‘update’ them was very real.

The Committee went as far as creating a sub-committee to look into the matter with special reference to Patience, which seemed to them to be the most suitable for this treatment. The group took its brief very seriously but reported that ‘It was unable to recommend the Society to experiment with a production of the opera in a new look.’ Unsurprisingly, Alfred Tomalin was a member of the sub-committee…

An ‘old look’ Patience was not thought to be good box office so a traditional version of The Pirates of Penzance was chosen instead. It was decided not to add Cox and Box as a curtain raiser but to start the four performances at 7:30 and ‘revert to the custom of giving encores if definitely demanded by the audience.’ The temptation to increase ticket prices was resisted but the costume fee (and discount) remained.

Mary Nobbs and D Cecil Williams were again at the helm but the leading soprano, Shirley Wort, had resigned. This caused the Casting Committee considerable problems as it failed to find a suitable Mabel (Margaret Lawrence and Barbara Harris had to re-audition with the part eventually going to the latter). Owing to the small number of candidates auditioning, it was not possible to name any understudies so the directing team was permitted to invite people from other societies. 

Bizarrely, the Echo reviewer began by giving everyone an update on his health problems which had now improved 'thanks to an excessively jovial production by C. Mary Nobbs. My low spirits had gone by the finale and, miraculously, so had the pain in the back. The model of a modern Major General was, of course, Tom Judd: few can do those patter songs as well as he. The Pirate King of Raymond Harris was well played and sung, but Robert McKenna's Sergeant of Police with his magnificent business was a riot as were his Keystone confederates. John Hoskins sang splendidly as the Pirate Apprentice, and I liked too, Catherine Baker's performance as Ruth. Barbara Harris was an able Mabel. Pamela Hoskins, Christine White and Shirley Young fulfilled their duties admirably as Edith, Kate and Isabel as did Scott Carruthers as Samuel. The chorus work was excellent - particularly that of the men.’

The Chairman, Robert Hughes, had not attended a single committee meeting during the season and was also absent from the AGM, so was not able to announce that nearly 5000 people watched the production and a profit of £125 14s 10d (£125.75) was achieved. The Society banked the 75p but shared the rest between the Institute for the Blind, the YMCA, Mentally Handicapped Children, the Cancer Campaign, the Freedom from Hunger Campaign and the Barlow and Ellyett Homes.

Terry O'Farrell

Photo of Stanley

Christine White (Kate), Shirley Young (Isabel), Tom Judd (Major-General Stanley), Pam Hoskins (Edith)