May and Alia do Pirates (of Penzance)

May and Alia do Pirates

REVIEW – May and Alia do Pirates (of Penzance)

La Mama Courthouse, Carlton

June 25, 2014.

This is an adaption gone right in so many ways. First of all, May and Alia cut down Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance from a 2.5 hour comedic opera to a 55 minute straight through musical romp. The original 11 character cast is also cut down to only two performers, Alia and May – and of course, the broomstick.

On finding that the rest of the cast haven’t shown up, May and Alia attempt to perform Pirates Of Penzance as a duo. This is a fringe style play-cum-musical. The performers/creators/producers (Alia Vryens and May Jasper) choose to embrace their lousy budget. The rickety old suitcase full of dress-up box props compliments the shithouse cassette player that plays their equally average backing track for the first song. We are (I was) relieved when shortly a live band, a bass/piano duo, is invited onto the stage. To combat the absent crew, the pirate-performers use an array of hats and domestic items to make up for missing characters. In some moments this climaxes to an excited and confusing trio, no duo, between four to five characters, performed by the two, which looks as exhausting and it sounds. In other moments the stage is given over to darkness, with a simple torchlight and the superb tones of Alia Vryens, who’s voice as ‘The Pirate King’ is anything but pirate like (it’s beautiful).

The decision to both pare back and strip naked the original leaves this adaptation with an autonomy and integrity of its own. Alia and May use the original as a narrative and comedic device, and to play, frolic and showcase their talent. Their objective though goes beyond merely showing off how clever they are, a trap that adaptations can so easily fall into. May and Alia are ultimately here to entertain and enchant, and their genuine attempt at this leaves us wanting more.

In saying that, I don’t feel the performance could support another 40 minute act. The timing of this piece as a well-crafted and succinct 55minutes is perfect. But I’d love to go back another night, and see them take on a Rogers and Hammerstein, or a Wicked.

As a play that seeks to entertain, it had us (in particular me, my 35 year old brother in law, and the old dude in the front row) giggling like schoolgirls. But at one moment when ‘the police’ are beating up ‘the pirates’ while the pirates shout “I submit, I’m not resisting”, I got excited about the potential for the humour to go deeper than a laugh. Alas, this was the only fleeting moment. Perhaps the only element lacking was a little critical edge which says ‘This is why we’re doing this’, ‘This is why we’ve made this adaptation’, because maybe today Pirates still has something to say.

This performance is on at La Mama in Carlton until this Sunday and, really, if you’re looking for some good hearted fun, then get on down and support these very clever girls. I promise you will leave feeling lighter and brighter than you arrived.

Tickets and bookings at the LaMama website.

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