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Review: Pansexual Pregnant Piracy (Soho Theatre)

Review by Sam Waite

 

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

Played on screen by the likes of Minnie Driver and Diana Quick, Anne Bonny seems a natural choice for a dramatic piece of historical fiction exploring her brief but eventful time on a pirate crew. Clearly the folks at Airlock Theatre, following up their show Lesbian Space Crime, had other ideas and instead offer up Pansexual Pregnant Piracy, an entirely inaccurate, completely shameless, and utterly delightful retelling of the Anne Bonny story.

 

Played by Airlock member Rosanna Suppa, Bonny famously disguised herself as a man to board a pirate vessel, becoming the lover of its captain and soon the mother to his child. Only Captain Calico Jack and fellow female stowaway Mary Read knew the truth about the new first mate, renamed “Man” Bonny is this raunchy retelling. With her husband abandoned and the Pirate Hunter General on their tail, Anne and co sail the seas for booty, for adventure, and most of all for booty, on a song and dance-filled adventure across the seven seas.



 A co-creation of cast members Suppa, Eleanor Colville and Robbie Taylor Hunt, the script gleefully abandons what little we know about Bonny in its initial moments, where a long-repressed Anne spouts a string of expletives before dishing out roundhouse kicks to the faces of her husband, potential employers, and any other man who might stand in the way of her newfound lust for life. Jokes come thick, fast, and often filthy – often they're genuinely very funny, but other times I found myself laughing at just how crude the troupe had opted to be.

 

Their plotline moves forward with a surprisingly strong sense of pace for something so outlandish, presenting their progressive, modernised version of Anne and the complications of the surprise pregnancy in a neat 65 or so minutes. Relationships are vague and their piracy is mostly alluded to rather than seen, but the emotional arc of Anne realising she feels at home neither as an embroidering housewife nor under a presumed male identity rings true, and Carrie's some actual emotional heft. Where history has largely been abandoned for the sake of what would be a funnier spin on the events portrayed, this has allowed for a nuanced exploration of gender identity and discovering one’s queerness in adulthood, all without sacrificing the blunt, beautifully tasteless humour.



 Suppa is excellent throughout, landing a big early laugh with the transition from a gentle, dissatisfied housewife to a roaringly defiant woman bent on adventure and on bedding whoever takes her fancy as she goes. Alongside moments of broad comedy for themself, Suppa also has excellent moments playing the one sane person in a scene. Where the captain will act on sheer impulse and nearly collapse Anne’s life in a single moment with his lack of thought, Suppa will nail the genuine horror and bafflement that mingle in Anne’s mind. Proving an invaluable asset, Eleanor Colville leans hard into her ludicrous take on Calico Jack, continuously throwing out absurd lines and nailing Jack’s misguided and often unearned swagger.

 

In a show with plenty of doubling as minor characters era to go around, co-creator Robbie Taylor Hunt is chiefly cast in two opposing roles – ex/husband James Bonny, and drag queen turned parrot sidekick Ivana Cracker. Delivering brutal misogyny in one role and enough sass to sink the ship in the other, Hunt has a real diva moment delivering a a cabaret number atop a stool, with painfully on the nose lyrics sold through a husky, breathy croon. Rounding out the small crew as Mary “Mark” Read is Elizabeth Chu, brazenly lustful from the moment she arrives soaking wet with a dagger in her teeth (“What a serve!” Anne exclaims) and immediately fitting in with this ragtag crew of bonkers and bizarre seamen.



Also acting as director, Hunt doesn't fall into the trap of playing more to his own strengths than those around him, giving everyone ample time to shine and making the most of the cast’s comedic abilities. When transitions are needed to allow for costume changes, he offers up nonsensical ad-breaks (non-premium Spotify style) and he clearly knows that this kind of comedy is no place for a subtle, nuanced approach to a joke. Beautifully opposed are Sara Green’s choreography for the musical numbers, and fight direction from Enric Ortuño – where she delivers the goody, upbeat energy we quickly learn is the play's default setting, he manages to add a real touch of drama without overcomplicating the swordplay or suggesting more skill than these relative novices might actually have possessed. The songs, lighthearted, throwaway pieces only as catchy as they need to be to reach the next scene, benefits from the orchestrations of Erin Rydal and Simon McKenzie, both of whom also add a grainy, deliberately rough quality to the advertisements both covering for quick-changes and keeping us up to date on the Pirate Hunter General’s movements.

 

Caitlin Mawhinney masterfully demonstrates how a small space can still be home to a lively, workable set. With only a chest, a tinsel curtain, and a glittery backdrop suggesting vast opens and sparkling treasure, Mawhinney has crafted a charming background for Pansexual Pregnant Piracy, and allowed for an array of visual gags throughout the performance. Her costumes, too, are simple and bright, giving each character a distinctive touch of personality in their wardrobe – Tia Kofi would kill for Ivana’s signature dress, while the presence of a lavender bra upon Mary’s chest for a surprising amount to distinguish her from her fellow lady pirate, the modestly-dressed “Man” Bonny.



 Stupid in all the best ways, Pansexual Pregnant Piracy is a whale of a time with an ocean of jokes to wash over its audience. Sure, some of the comedy could be more refined, and laughs earned through pure crudeness can only take a show so far, but this audacious, laugh out loud evening at the theatre is one well spent, and finally one I feel the real Anne Bonny would be honoured to be remembered by.

 

Pansexual Pregnant Piracy plays at Soho Theatre Upstairs until April 13th

 

 

Photos by Cam Harle

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