The Crits

The British Theatre Guide
Review by Rivka Jacobson (2007)

There is something akin to magic in creativity as it stimulates new actuality. Ellis' Pirate Jenny, conjures such reality. It is an inspired amalgam of superb acting, an amusing animated cartoon as a backdrop and, for good measure, racy tunes to match the mellifluence of the actors and the mood of the play.

In 1928 Bertolt Brecht created Pirate Jenny and Kurt Weill dressed her with music that was so popular that they imported her into the Threepenny Opera. Ellis turned her into his own heroine, crowning her with the title role of this inspired production.

While members of the audience settled into their seats, they were treated to a framed backdrop of a map showing the journey of an animated ship sailing in 1765 from England down to the west coast of Africa, then across the Atlantic to South America and on to the Caribbean Islands and finally back to Europe, retracing the "triangle" voyages of the slave trade.

Jenny, impressively performed by Katie Murray, is a scivvy at a rundown boarding house in Wellsley. She is being used and abused by the unscrupulous Mr. Barstowe (Perry Dennis), the owner of the house. The only comforting soul in that oppressive abode is the sympathetic Mr. Snape (Howell Evans), who also lets our heroine down. The sudden appearance of Black Jack (Joseph Macnab) on the scene changes Jenny's life forever. It does not take much for him to persuade her to join his crew and turn young Jenny into a proficient pirate. She is not a ruthless killer, yet she exploits her femininity to the hilt.

The drama unfolds like a flower blooming in slow motion. It gradually exposes the simple facts of our heroine's life. The performance and mime of each of the four actors is impressive. The animated cartoons of the backdrop season the plot and add depth and a panoramic view of Jenny's turbulent life, past and present. It is claimed to be the first interactive cartoon musical. This format gave a natural flow to the drama, which is not easily achieved with conventional stage props, and we are likely to see this approach adopted more widely.

Ellis' play calls upon multiple skills from the actors, including pantomime and singing, which are performed against the ever changing backdrop, which accompanies the plot in a witty fashion.

The direction of Michael Fentiman created an impressive marriage between the various media which vividly communicates the plot and teases the humour and the sordid side of 19th century society. As in the ballad operas that inspired this sparkling musical, John Gay's 18th century Beggars Opera and its Brecht/Weill successor, evil triumphs but the culprits eventually settle for quite life.

If Pir
ate Jenny reaches your shore, don't miss the boat.

©Peter Lathan 2007

Other rather nice comments

What a wonderful production! It was excellent.... couldn't stop laughing!!!! Great acting/singing/keyboard playing/lighting/make-up/direction etc etc etc.............. The animation was genius!
Francesca Brown, WriteOn Theatre

This is a very convincing new style of theatre born of old music hall/melodrama technique and digital technology. There's huge scope here. The counterpoint between the animation and the on-stage action  points up  irony, subtextual implications and comedy in a cinematographic way a bit like Baz Lehrman's Moulin Rouge - but the live performance never gets overwhelmed: the animation sets the time and place and contributes an additional subversive point of view on stage. The possibilities for historical or topical documetnary theatre are endless. Fascinating and hugely entertaining!
Dave Wybrow, The Cockpit Theatre

Really enjoyed the show! When are you hoping to have your London run?
Jasmine Cullingford, Theatre & Programme Manager, Blue Elephant Theatre

And that Nick
With four actors
Has created something truly different
And I hope to see more.
Tony Newbold, Writer

The show Pirate Jenny was great fun. A swashbuckling story with pretty songs. The moving cartoon pictures for the backdrop worked very well, drawing the audience into the action. We were there inside the house, at the harbour and in the thick of the battles, while Jenny emerged as a role model for independently-minded women everywhere.
Valerie Jones, Educationalist

‘Best evenings entertainment in ages. Loved the songs (finding them very ‘hummable’), acting superb, costumes colourful, animations brought the whole thing to life and tied it all together in a very unique way – I especially liked the exploding cannonball effects and of course, the sword fights. Sad it’s over really because I’d like to see it again!’
Debby Sass, Costume Designer

I went to see your show, "Pirate Jenny" at the Bridewell Theatre on Monday evening and (as you invited comment in the programme) just wanted to say how much I and my three friends enjoyed it.  We loved the concept - combining live performance with ever-changing illustration/animation as a backdrop. It was a brilliant way of setting the scene or changing the set without all the usual clumping about of props and stage sets ! The show itself was original , amusing and touching. The four actors were utterly convincing in their main roles and wonderfully versatile.  I was amazed that such a small cast were able to hold the attention of the audience throughout ;  they were really excellent. And how they could sing!  In fact their singing was good, as were all the different songs. Well done to your company for coming up with something a bit different ..... and pulling it off .
D. Reid, Councillor

What a fantastic show! We really enjoyed ourselves. I hope the last night of the tour goes spectacularly! Break a leg and all that!
Sam Trask, Engineer
Really great to see how it (Pirate Jenny) has developed. The screen (and interaction with the screen) looked AMAZING. Really tremendous set of actors too.... I don't suppose Jake had studied the "Flash Heart" character from Blackadder by any chance?
Merlin Matthews, Multimedia Designer

Fantastic show - very polished, every aspect was  great. Lots of positive comments at the interval from the audience.

Just had to write to tell you how much  we enjoyed the show. It deserves to be a success !

Excellent show. First time for ages we haven't even  felt close to nodding of during a performance!  

... it's got a long way to go - and it deserves to  go all the way. Mike Maran (Producer)

Of all the shows  he has done, this one must rank as the best.  Great story, good songs,  great cast and acting and fabulous animation.