A makeshift masterpiece of frantic theatre, written and performed by two comedic naturals in their element.
Waiting for the show to begin, I noticed the small stage and lack of a set. I looked again at the program: it said that May and Alia do Pirates! [of Penzance] toured not only Melbourne, but Canada and New York. It didn't look the part. As I thought to myself, I hope this isn't all swash, and no buckle, the lights went down and two performers danced on stage, cheesy grins frozen on their faces. An eon of awkward silence later, it became clear that no one else was going to turn up. Tension was heightened. This, then, was the show within the show: could these two theatre tragics overcome their personal war to put on the show of a lifetime?
What followed was a makeshift masterpiece of frantic theatre, written and performed by two comedic naturals in their element. The audience wondered how two girls with 'trousers tucked into their socks' could pull off the performance with such a severe lack of numbers. The answer came in the form of a suitcase-turned-pirate ship. In this show, the prop was king. May and Alia took turns playing different characters using hats, wigs and costume changes; using ladles with fake moustaches and platinum blonde wigs, and sock puppets with Scottish accents to stand in when required. At one point, the tape player packs it up. While May is trying to 'fix' it, Alia recruits members from the audience to fill her place (interactions with the crowd are amusing).
Beneath the slapstick, though, the talent is real. Both May Jasper and Alia Vryens are singers worth their salt. The vocals were impressive (with even the male parts sung in their original keys), and the script added personal flair to some numbers. In addition, they are both seasoned performers who write, direct and produce theatre in Australia and overseas. Jasper co-founded theatre company SNAFU Theatre with Sam Wilson in 2002, producing many shows (including for the Edinborough Film Festival). Vryens co-founded Theatre Cartel, a resource centre for theatre companies. Beyond these credentials are a simple love of theatre and a comprehensive knowledge of Gilbert and Sullivan. Their version of Pirates wasn't dragged out, or as terribly boring as it could have been (they even managed to make paraphrasing exciting). At times, their version surpassed even the original for entertainment value.
In the end, Jasper and Vryens ran a very tight ship. May and Alia do Pirates! [of Penzance] is a wonderful theatrical accomplishment and well worth a look.
Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars
May and Alia do Pirates! [of Penzance]
Adapted from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance
Created and performed by May Jasper and Alia Vryens
Directed by Eva Johansen
Music and composition by Tim Beresford and Gabriel Lu
La Mama Courthouse, Drummond St, Carlton
June 18 - June 29
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level