On the coast of Cornwall, a gang of pirates play and party as Frederic (a pirate apprentice) reminds the pirate king that his obligation to the gang is soon over. He was apprenticed to the pirates only until his twenty-first birthday, which is that day, and he is leaving them. Ruth (Frederic’s nursery maid when he was younger) explains that Frederic should never have been a pirate except for her mistake: She was told to apprentice Frederic to a pilot, but she misunderstood and placed him with a pirate instead.
Frederic tells the pirates that, after he leaves the gang, he intends to destroy them, not because he doesn’t love them, but because he loathes what they do. He is a slave of duty and, when no longer a pirate, it will be his duty to destroy them. The pirates understand, and also complain that they cannot seem to make money. Because Frederic is a slave-of-duty to the pirates until noon, he tells them why: Because they are all orphans, the pirates will not rob another orphan; and since all their potential victims are aware of this, they all claim to be orphans!
Because Frederic has spent his entire life with the pirates, he has never seen another woman; thus he thinks he may want to take Ruth with him as his wife. He asks Ruth if she is beautiful, and she responds that she is. Frederic, a very trusting young man, says that he believes Ruth and he will not let her age come between them.At this point, however, Frederic sees a group of beautiful young women, realizes he was betrayed by Ruth, and rejects her. Frederic informs the girls that he is a pirate, but not for long. He asks if any of the girls will marry him, and the youngest, Mabel, agrees.The pirates enter the scene, and each grabs a girl. Major-General Stanley enters and identifies himself as the girls’ father, demanding to know what is taking place. When the pirates tell Major-General Stanley that they intend to marry his daughters, he objects, saying he has an aversion to having pirates for sons-in-law; the pirates respond that they are opposed to having major-generals as fathers-in-law, but that they will put aside the objection.
Knowing about the pirates’ weakness, Major-General Stanley tells them he is an orphan and, thus, disarms the pirates and saves his daughters. However, he soon feels guilty about the lie he told the pirates. Frederic, however, has a plan to lead a squad of zany policemen against his old gang. Before he can act, however, the pirate king and Ruth arrive to tell him that he is still obligated to the pirates. Because Frederic was born on Leap Year Day, 29th February, he has served only five birthdays, not the twenty-one required by his contract. A strong sense of duty forces Frederic to relent, and, because he is a member of the pirate band again, to reveal the truth that Major-General Stanley is not an orphan. The pirate king vows that he will have revenge on the major-general.
Mabel enters and begs Frederic not to go back to the pirates, but bound by duty, he leaves. The police ready their attack on the pirates, while the pirates creep in to take revenge on the major-general. The pirates defeat the police. However, when Ruth divulges that the pirates are really noblemen and they swear their allegiance to the queen, the tables are turned--and the police take the pirates prisoner. However, because the pirates have never really hurt anyone, they are soon forgiven. The ex-pirates win the girls, Frederic wins Mabel, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Frederick: Russell Whitehead
Mabel: Alan Richardson
Pirate King: Ricky Rojas
Ruth: Samuel Holmes
Major General Stanley: Fred Broom
Sergeant of Police: Joe Maddison
Samuel: Michael Burgen
Edith: Stewart Charlesworth
Connie: Lee Greenway
Isabel: Chris Theo-Cook
Kate: Christopher Wheeler
Director: Sasha Regan
Choreographer: Lizzie Gee
Musical Director: Chris Mundy
Designer: Robyn Wilson
Costumes: Frances Jones
Lighting: Steve Miller
Now, if an actor in these operas has to be careful of one thing above everything else, it is that of avoiding forcing a point. Gilbert's wit is so neat and so beautifully phrased that it would be utterly spoilt by buffoonery. The lines must be declaimed in deadly seriousness just as if the actor believes absolutely in the fanciful and extravagant thing he is saying. I can think of no better illustration of this than the scene in Iolanthe where Strephon rejects recourse to the Chancery Court and says his code of conduct is regulated only by "Nature's Acts of Parliament." The Lord Chancellor then talks about the absurdity of "an affidavit from a thunderstorm or a few words on oath from a heavy shower." What a typical Gilbertian fancy! Well, you know how the "comic" man would say that, how he would whip up his coat collar and shiver at the suggestion of rain, and how he would do his poor best to make it sound and look "funny." And the result would be that he would kill the wittiness of the lines by burlesque. The Lord Chancellor says the words as if he believes an affidavit from a thunderstorm was at least a possibility, and the suggestion that he does think it possible makes the very idea, in the audience's mind, more whimsical still.