Too good to resist

Harry Grigg (Frederic) and Beth Goulstone (Mabel)  during dress rehearsal for The Pirates of...
Harry Grigg (Frederic) and Beth Goulstone (Mabel) during dress rehearsal for The Pirates of Penzance. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
The cast of Opera Otago’s production of The Pirates of Penzance is embracing the ridiculous to do the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta justice, singer Harry Grigg and director Nadya Shaw Bennett tell Rebecca Fox.

The sheer absurdity and general craziness of The Pirates of Penzance meant Nadya Shaw Bennett could not pass up on the opportunity to direct the piece.

Her year had already been flat out with the lead role in the Taieri Musical Society's production of Mary Poppins but her love of Gilbert and Sullivan had her taking on another major project.

``It was a great opportunity that fell in my lap. It was too good to pass up,'' she said.

Like most creative people, she admits to being terrible at saying no.

``When I'm busy I'm at my most productive; I get a lot done.''

She has done only a little directing in the past and this is her biggest project so far.

``It's really exciting, challenging. I've learned a lot and I'm fortunate to have a lot of support from my creative team - they're a stellar group of people.''

The Pirates of Penzance artistic director Assoc Prof Judy Bellingham said when Opera Otago wanted a local director, Shaw Bennett was involved in Mary Poppins and they wondered if she would give it a go.

She had done Gilbert and Sullivan shows in the past and Bellingham believes the works are in ``her blood''.

``She has far exceeded expectations. She is doing a fantastic job and the cast loves her.''

Nadya Shaw Bennett
Nadya Shaw Bennett
One of Opera Otago's aims is to promote youth and it has received Creative New Zealand funding for this production to develop young artists.

Most of the production team are in their 20s, including musical director Sam van Betuw, a third-year music student at the University of Otago.

Gilbert and Sullivan is challenging for singers and audiences and many can be put off because it dates from 1879.

``They wonder how it can be still relevant now, but they wrote about society and many ... things haven't changed, like the judgements people make based on a person's occupation.''

It is also ridiculous but it was written that way to send up Victorian England.

Harry Grigg, an Otago University music student, plays Frederic, the romantic lead of the piece.

Apprenticed to be a pirate, Frederic decides to renounce his pirate friends and lead a ``blameless'' life.

``He's a wonderfully naive person. He feels bound by duty to leave the pirates on his 21st birthday and try to destroy them all.''

He also meets a bevy of beautiful maidens, including Mabel (Beth Gouldstone), who agrees to marry him.

``Nothing ever goes quite right for Frederic. He's so wonderfully sincere.''

Shaw Bennett juggles dramatic commitments with a job as an executive assistant at the University of Otago.

It is Grigg's first full operetta and he is finding it a wonderful induction to the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.

He decided the only way to do it was to tackle the ridiculousness head on.

``The only way to make this funny is to embrace the silly. That has been my internal monologue.''

It has been a vocally challenging role for the tenor, as he is on stage most of the time.

``It has been a test of my technique and endurance. It has been a great opportunity. It is so much fun to be singing with everyone.''


To see
The Pirates of Penzance, Tonight until October 19, Mayfair Theatre


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