Queen Anne’s Revenge – The Rise and Fall of Blackbeard the Pirate
Arrata Opera Centre
June 9 to 18, 2011
I don’t know which would have been more disappointing, watching the Canucks get walloped in game 7 of the Stanley Cup or sitting through the performance of Queen Anne’s Revenge last night. I think if made to choose, I’d have to say the play was more unfortunate. Vancouver was beaten fair and square and I really can’t complain, but I feel that Queen Anne’s Revenge unfairly forced my dislike through unnecessary and avoidable elements.
First though, the plot.
The play opens with a Royal sailor by the name of Teech who has been let go from the service and is in need of a sailing job. Unable to find legitimate work, he signs up with a crew of pirates under the rule of Captain Hornigold. The crew gets cranky when Hornigold won’t let them pillage English ships and a mutiny unfolds putting Teech in the captain’s role. Teech, unafraid to pillage any type or nationality of ship, earns a wide reputation as a man to be feared. Embracing his new found cult status, Teech takes on the persona of Blackbeard by donning ….you guessed it…a big black beard….and playing up this mythically nefarious persona.
At the same time, we are introduced to Governor Eden of the colony of North Carolina and his beautiful daughter Charlotte. Eden is suffering from a lung disease and the only way for him to get the medicine he needs is by appealing to the Governor from South Carolina, Spottswood, to give him the curatives in return for Charlotte’s hand in marriage. Charlotte loves her father beyond all else and is more than willing to marry Spottswood, despite her dislike of him, if it means her father’s health and happiness.
The two stories collide when Blackbeard decides to set up a blockade on South Carolina until Spottswood pays for the colony’s release. Charlotte and her friend Grace are captured by Blackbeard en route to South Carolina to arrange for the wedding to Governor Spottswood. Despite his pirate behaviour, Blackbeard shows gentlemanly kindness to Charlotte. A romance blossoms between the two, only to be complicated by plots of revenge from both the ousted pirate Captain Hornigold and Governor Spottswood himself.
I have no issue with the story itself. It’s a fairly safe and classic boy and girl from two different worlds meet and fall in love type of affair. And the staging, with the video projections as background scenery and the double-sided stage, was innovative and visually very clever. It was the dancing and the singing and a portion of the acting that threw the play into a tail spin for me.
I have let it be known before that I hate musicals. But to call this a musical would actually be disrespectful to the genre. Instead, what we get are generally horrid voices, singing poorly written songs that only take away from the flow and energy of the play itself. It’s a small theatre and the audience sits VERY close to the actors so there was no mistaking the many off-key or just average singing voices. But in fairness, the voices may have been better had the libretto not been so awkward. With mostly atonal music to sing by, cliché verses and sloppy phrasing, it would have been hard for even decent singers to sound great. The dancing sequences were even more of a mess. None in the cast are professional dancers, and their movements were comically stilted and amateurish.
I have no idea why the playwright felt the need to ruin a perfectly good story with these silly asides of song and dance by a cast so inept at the tasks, but by the sixth or seventh time they broke out into song, I literally had to bite my lip to keep from laughing.
The acting was another head-scratcher for me. There were several standouts in the cast that kept me engaged. Sarah Wheeldon as Charlotte was outstanding as the classic goody-two-shoes with a secret passion for adventure. She was also the only member of the cast that could really sing. As tiresome as her songs were, at least it was nice to hear a decent voice giving life to them. Jeremy Coulter as both Governor Eden and Captain Hornigold carried the stage with great bravado brought dimension to his fairly thinly-constructed characters. Aaron Ranger as Israel Hands, Blackbeard’s right hand, gave a wonderful natural performance that was one of the most believable of the night. Even Darren Hopwood as Blackbeard did a fine enough job. But just when I thought I could at least settle into decent acting and forget the rest, I got hit with some of the worst performances I’ve seen in a long time. Suffice it to say that outside of Wheeldon, the women in the ensemble were remarkably awful and one of the male leads embarrassingly so. People….if you are going to do accents….can you PLEASE be consistent about them and not allow them to fade in and out or change national dialect throughout the play?!
Clocking in at 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 15 minute intermission, Queen Anne’s Revenge was a long journey that unfortunately ran aground for me.
For the guys – Yes there are pirates and sword fights. But the pirates sing and dance (sort of) SKIP IT
For the girls – Yes it’s a romantic love story. But the pirates sing and dance (sort of) SKIP IT
For the occasional audience – The staging is cool and there is some good acting MAYBE SEE IT
For the theatre junkie – Don’t. Trust me. SKIP IT