We chat to Lee Greenaway who plays Connie, one of the three sisters, in Sasha Regan’s acclaimed all-male production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance ahead of it’s run at the Hackney Empire before it heads to Australia for a 7 week tour.
So So Gay: What are the hardest challenges about playing a female role?
Lee: The hardest thing is the voice, because we are singing in the original key that the music was written. So we’re singing at the original pitch of a woman. It’s not natural for a man to sing that high, so that’s the hardest thing. But there’s also the fine line of taking it too far. We try and play everything quite naturally. We don’t camp it up and we don’t take the Mick out of it. It’s not a drag performance, neither is it a send-up. We keep it honest. Everything’s better when it’s just played for truth.
Is this your first time involved with the production?
No. I was in the very first production of this at the tiny Union Theatre in Southwark, about three years ago. Then I went to Wilton’s Music Hall with it. This is kind of like the third instalment in the Pirates… saga for me.
What differences are there in doing an all-male Gilbert & Sullivan production?
Because the piece is over 150 years old, I think nowadays, if you’re going to put on a Gilbert & Sullivan, you don’t have to, but it might be a good idea to do something with it – give it a different angle or a different way of perceiving it. I think what we’re doing is something that brings it into the 21st century. It challenges an audience, even though it’s written as a comedy. So you get loads of boys coming on stage in dresses, and it’s all very funny. But then our aim is to quickly get over that, and soon the audience almost forgets, eventually, that there are boys in dresses and just enjoy it for what it is. That’s quite an exciting thing to be a part of. I believe that audiences should be moved and challenged – it shouldn’t be an easy sit and switch off. It’s about staying with it, and I think having all boys on stage really gets people’s minds going.
And are you looking forward to touring Australia?
I’m very, very, very excited. I’ve always wanted to go myself. It’s rare that opportunities to go so far away from home arise, so I’m very very much looking forward to it.
The Pirates of Penzance plays at the Hackney Empire, London, E8 1EJ, 26-30 September 2012. Tickets are £10 – £27.50. To book call 020 8985 2424 www.hackneyempire.co.uk.
Featured Image: Lee Greenaway. Photograph: Chris Baker. Courtesy of Casting Call Pro.