Sometimes going to the theatre feels a little off-putting. A little stuffy. A little “Who’s Who” of the cultured class. You check your coat, enter the theatre quietly, find your seat and sip your white wine from your plastic cup all the while scanning the crowd for someone to talk about.
But not this time.
Check your expectations with your coat; you’re not going to need either inside the Bingham Theatre at Actors. Which, for this production of The Pirates of Penzance isn’t a theatre at all.
No, upon entering the space this time, you’ll find yourself thrust into the middle of a beach party. Literally. Beach balls fly through the air as audience members (and perhaps even you) playfully bat them back and forth across the room, all the while being led in a seaside sing-along by members of the cast and crew, already in the space and comfortably engaging everyone they meet as if they were old friends.
It’s relaxed. And unpretentious. And fun.
So much so that by the time the play actually starts, you’ll feel as though you’re surrounded by your old college pals—and when things don’t go quite right during the show (say, for example, a guitar strap falls off an actor’s instrument or he stumbles as he skitters up the stairs) it’s not seen as a flaw or mistake but a joke shared among friends.
The Pirates of Penzance, which opened Thursday at Actors Theatre, follows the same main storyline as the original comic opera, penned by Gilbert and Sullivan in the late 19th century. But this production, revamped by director Sean Graney and his crew from Chicago-based troupe The Hypocrites pulls in loads of modern touches, dials back the ‘opera’ and amps up the comedy.
The production has more simultaneous action than a birthday party for a six year old; those unfamiliar with the story should peruse a synopsis to avoid spending too much energy trying to follow the major plot points and thereby miss the best part of the experience.
Don’t let the wacky ways of cast fool you. For beneath the goofy exterior of these characters lies an abundance of talent. This cohesive ensemble of ten yields actors with strong physicality and musical prowess.
The Hypocrites use their adaptation of The Pirates of Penzance to encourage the audience not just to see the production, but to be part of it. And they throw one heck of a party.
The Pirates of Penzance, as reimagined by The Hypocrites, continues at Actors Theatre through February 4. Tickets may be purchased online, in person, or by calling 502-584-1205.
Image: B.Brymer/Actors Theatre 2014