By Farhat Dar

This October an amateur theatre group is bringing to life one of the most entertaining British musicals of yesteryear – Gilbert and Sullivan’s naughty nautical yarn The Pirates Of Penzance.

The quintessential Victorian comedy classic thrilled audiences when first performed over 120 years ago, with its daft tale of soft-hearted pirates, ‘model’ Major-Generals, apprentice pirates and procrastinating policemen, as well as the melodious, tongue-twisting songs of WS Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan.

In recent times, though, audiences haven’t exactly flocked to see the works of the light-opera masters, which means that both professional and amateur groups are staging them less and less. But Mill Hill Musical Theatre Company (MHMTC) tell me such culturally rich and valuable classics deserve to be performed regularly – despite the financial risks – so the public today can continue to enjoy them.

“All of Gilbert and Sullivan’s musicals, but particularly Pirates, are filled with joyous tunes and clever, witty lyrics that are a delight – and a challenge – to sing,” says Christine Hubbard, MHMTC chairman.

“They did, in fact, lay the foundations of the modern musical, with innovative integrated storylines and scores.”

Modern shows MHMTC has performed of late, including Guys & Dolls and Oliver!, were major successes, but contained very little for the chorus to get their teeth – and tonsils – into.

“Trying to get the balance right is a minefield. As well as putting on shows that attract the maximum number of bums on seats, we must also keep as many of the people on stage as happy as possible,” added Ms Hubbard. “After all, we’re all amateur performers who give up our valuable spare time to do something we love.”

Luckily, the decision to put on Pirates has swelled MHMTC’s membership by a number unprecedented in recent times. Of course, with new members come family, friends and colleagues, who will want to see them perform – but will this be enough to sell out five performances?

“When MHMTC first formed in 1954, as Mill Hill Amateur Operatic Society, Gilbert and Sullivan’s shows were the most popular out of all our repertoire. And most people will have been able to finish the line, ‘I am the very model of a ….’,” said Ms Hubbard. Despite being two of the most brilliant and successful musical-theatre exponents Britain has ever produced, and their shows being staged ad nauseam by professional and amateur groups for over a century across the English-speaking world, the duo are now sadly overlooked, but why?

The nation has been brought up on the likes of their Victorian contemporaries Dickens, Conan Doyle, Wells and Wilde, but Gilbert and Sullivan’s plots can seem quite pompous. Pirates, for example, pokes fun at the conventions of the grand opera – not something many folk are familiar with these days. Nonetheless, there remains a fondness and core following among some amateur troupes and theatregoers, with the Gilbert and Sullivan International Festival held in Harrogate every August.

Andy Taylor, who is directing MHMTC’s show, commented: “I could have only been 10 years old when the ginger-whiskered Sergeant of Police in The Pirates Of Penzance made me laugh heartily during my first visit to see the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. It’s through kids that we have to try to ignite a passion for these musicals.”

To this effect, MHMTC is welcoming children from a local primary to its Saturday matinee in a special ticket deal, and is encouraging any other interested teachers to contact its box office for availability.

This production of The Pirates Of Penzance, set in 1879, stars David Peston as the rollicking leather clad Pirate King, played memorably on screen by Kevin Kline. Rob Brown is apprentice pirate Frederic, whose hopes of ditching piracy are scuppered by an unfortunate twist of fate.

Kizzy Lilburne plays Mabel, the daughter of the Major-General (Graham Jackson), who vows to wait for Frederic until he’s a free man – in 1940! It’s only after many comic misunderstandings and ruses that everything is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction – even wily pirate maid Ruth (Barbara Shapiro).

“Pirates really does have a daffy storyline, but it’s a wonderful show to be in.

“We are going to have a blast performing it on stage, and I’m sure our audiences will have a blast, too,” says Ms Hubbard.

Hartley Hall, Flower Lane, Mill Hill, NW7 2JA, Wednesday, October 26 until Saturday, October 29. Details: 01923 269923,