Before the mists of time swallow us all up completely, I have been asked to set down a brief account of the origins of Pirate Productions a.s.b.l. It all started with a performance of - guess what - "The Pirates of Penzance" by the American School in Luxembourg. They appealed to the general public to swell the chorus, so some of us went along. It was hard work, but we enjoyed ourselves so much that we decided that we couldn't just leave it at that. We held a meeting in the Casino in Bonnevoie, and decided to put on a pantomime at Christmas. We all chipped in a contribution to fund the show, and one member started to write the script. More than once during rehearsals a player would ask, "What comes next", only to be told, "I don't know, I haven't written it yet". Costumes were still very amateurish in most cases, although the harem girls were very realistic. I still remember my then small daughter asking me after the show, "Daddy, why was that lady showing her tummy?" It was this pantomime - "Aladdin"- that saw the birth of the scrolls joke. In reply to the Sultan's questions Richard Johnson spontaneously came out with the now time-honoured reply, and we all shouted immediately "Write it in"*.
Quite a few of the jokes in that show were engendered in the same way, but this one stuck. "Aladdin" was staged in the Casino, which became our spiritual home for the next several shows. It had several disadvantages, not least the acoustics, which inspired some most ingenious schemes to improve the audibility of the chorus. There was only one changing room ,which was perforce communal. Ladies and Gentlemen politely averted their gaze, while the rest of us feasted our eyes, but there were no complaints. Peter Carr-North used to award a prize for such achievements as "the biggest pair of underpants" and that sort of thing. You can imagine.
The next show was "The Beggars Opera". It was a noble effort, but so much depends on the audience hearing the words that efforts were redoubled to improve the acoustics. The next show was "The Mikado", which was dominated literally by a huge Japanese fan on stage. This acted as a sounding board, which really helped us to put the show across. The previous shows, including "Pirates", had been directed with professional skill by Jackie Caminer, who then went back to England, but "Mikado" (and the fan) marked the spectacular entry on the scene of Jane Carter. Jane was a genius. She produced the shows, she designed constructed the sets, she wrote and drew the posters, she steamrollered difficulties into the ground - we loved her and worshipped her. Of course, she had help, but I always felt that she did half the work, and the rest of us did the other half.
We have always given the proceeds of our shows to some charity. I'm sure this was a big factor in securing an audience in those days. We were operating on a shoestring, but people used to comment that we were all obviously enjoying ourselves on stage and that came through even if the words didn't. The money mostly went to the charity general fund, but two specific projects I recall were that we built a school in India and, nearer home, bought an electric stove for the children's home in Betzdorf.
We have always been blessed with good musicians. I shall never forget waiting for the curtain to go up on "Pirates of Penzance" and being amazed by the quality of sound that the conductor, Robin Alder, elicited from the orchestra. Like the actors, those musicians stayed together, and are now known as the highly successful Luxembourg Philharmonia.
The committee meetings and the AGM's were lively affairs, lots of enthusiastic people all putting forwards their ideas. The main difficulty was to obtain a consensus on which brilliant suggestion to adopt, as we couldn't so everything as once. It was a proud moment when we graduated to the theatre in Esch-sur-Alzette. At last we had a setting which was worthy of our talents, which had improved considerably over the "Casino" years. Most importantly, our faithful audience followed us to Esch, which we hadn't been sure they would do.
Pirates had always been a team effort, and so I tried not to mention too many names. However, I must pay a tribute to our gallant helmsman Edward Seymour, a founder-member like myself, who was very far-seeing and guided us in masterly fashion in those early days when the pirate ship was a very small craft, and not nearly as seaworthy as she is now. There has been a great turnover in the people involved in Pirates since those early days, and it is good to see new member appearing all the time. The Grand Old Duke of York climbed another mountain, and so it goes on. Break a leg, everyone!
* For those who don't know the scrolls joke, here it is: 'Have you got the scrolls?' 'No, I always stand this way'
Roy Green 1998
In 2000, Pirates celebrated its 21st birthday at Mondorf-Les-Bains
In June 2019, Pirates held a celebration of its 40th birthday at the hotel Parc-Alvisse. The format of the evening was a dinner with entertainment between courses. Songs had been chosen, not from the last 40 years but the last 19 since a selection from the first 21 years had already been covered in the 21st birthday event.
100 people attended with many past members returning to Luxembourg, especially for the occasion, from USA, Italy, Germany and if course the UK.
To mark the occasion, Philip Dutton created a video featuring every production since the begining (where we could lay our hands on material). For the early years, only still-photos exist but from 1998, video footage is increasingly available. Initially the technical qualty was rather poor but in the last 10 years the images, sound and camera work have improved dramatically. Two versions of have been created:
- 40th Video with commentary by Neil Johnson
- 40th Video without CLICK HERE TO VIEW