Hopes were high for Pirates of Penzance, my first foray into Gilbert and Sullivan. Directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans’ Pirates is currently playing at the Wales Millennium Centre for the final week of its UK tour, in a co-production between Scottish Opera and D’Oyly Carte Billed as “pure, uncomplicated fun with a Python-esque twinkle at its heart” and a “rollicking romp through the high seas of duty”, the orchestra started playing the unmistakable opening melody of the Welsh National Anthem as the show started, and the whole audience rose to its feet producing a rich and deep vocal sound. A short montage on the stage curtain during the overture was amusing enough, giving a nod to the Cornish setting of the piece, but alas things went badly downhill on curtain up. It was an evening where the laughter and mirth of the Gilbert and Sullivan stalwarts in the audience – they presumably knew what to expect – didn’t match my own in any way, and I quickly learned that if you don’t appreciate the very old English humour in a G&S, it becomes a rather boring evening.

Some of the cast worked valiantly against the odds to try to inject some life into proceedings, albeit with varied results. Rosie Aldridge’s (older) maid Ruth was initially amusing in her obsession for young Frederic, a naïve young man with a misplaced sense of duty who had yet to discover the delights of younger ladies than his maid, although she needed to be wittier and craftier in the later scenes when the initial joke had already been played. The two leads were stronger – Sam Furness was a good looking and innocent Frederic, conveying the youthfulness of the character well, although it was hard to believe in this day and age that any young man would commit to staying with the pirates until old age, because of the discrepancy that his birthday was on 29 February. Rebecca Bottone was in fine operatic voice as Mabel – I last saw her in equally fine voice as Joanna in Sweeney Todd – giving the character a sense of fun and bemusement. Richard Suart – who has been with the company since 1988! – was a doddery Major-General Stanley, with his hair literally standing on end, although his initial patter song needed clearer pronunciation (the sound was rather off in general on opening night alas – I needed to use the subtitles on a number of occasions).

What G&S really needs is to be reinvented by a bold and modern interpreter, as Matthew Bourne has done with ballet and Stephen Mear with direction and choreography (in particular at Chichester). It needs a new concept or a revolutionary approach, taking the satire, irony and pastiche elements further – some dialogue needs updating too. The set (complete with a large size Queen Victoria) needed updating and modernising, and the chorus work from a large cast needed to be slicker, but maybe that’s just the nature of the material. Alas the over exaggerated acting that has gone out of fashion in opera was in evidence, and I longed for the fluidity of movement of a well produced musical. The orchestra did produce a rich sound throughout, and gave life and panache to the well known melodies, but this production just came across a bit old hat. Just don’t tell the G&S stalwarts, but I think I’ll be giving their shows a miss in future.