The curtain rises on part of the rocky coast of Cornwall (the dry part of course) where the Pirates with their King are celebrating the fact that Frederic, one of their number, has completed his apprenticeship to their trade, as he is now twenty-one years of age. However, Frederic surprises them all by announcing to the King that, although he did his best for them as an apprentice, now that he is free he proposes to leave them. His presence there with them anyway was all due to an error on the part of Ruth, the Pirate maid-of-all-work. She apparently misheard Frederic's father, who wished him to become apprenticed to a pilot. Obviously before the days of the National Health.
Video by Chris Lockwood
The King comments that piracy does not seem to pay very well, so Frederic, still under a sense of duty, points out to them that they are far too soft hearted, and that because they are all orphans, they will never molest any other orphan. Consequently the word has got round, and every ship they take claim to be manned entirely by orphans...
Now, Ruth is the only woman Frederic has seen since he went to sea at the age of eight, and so he has never had the chance of comparing her with any other, and, despite Samuel's "there are the remains of a fine woman about Ruth", neither Frederic or the Pirates really want her on their hands, or anywhere else for that matter. Faced with the prospect of having to exterminate the Pirates out of a sense of duty after midnight, Frederic suggests that the King come back to civilisation with him, but the King will have none of it "I'll live and die a Pirate King". Ruth pleads with Frederic to take her with him, but her case is lost when he sees a bevy of beautiful young women in the distance. Ruth departs in despair and Frederic hides to watch the girls who take off their shoes and socks to have a paddle. As a Victorian, page three did not exist, and the thought of these young ladies' bare feet was quite enough. These girls are all the daughters of Major General Stanley, and as you will see by the quantity of them he must have had a bicycle in his youth.
As the girls go to have their paddle. Frederic appears and frightens them somewhat by his 'effective but alarming costume', and by the news that he is a Pirate, although he assures them that he renounces his profession that very evening. He appeals to them, but there is no response until Mabel enters and sings the well known 'Poor Wandering One'. During this song it becomes clear that Mabel and Frederic have something going for them, so during the next song, whilst Frederic and Mabel go aside, the rest of the girls chatter about the weather - but still try to hear what the two lovers are saying. This is all very idyllic, but it does not last long.
Now Frederic, as he goes off with Mabel, tries to warn the other girls that the Pirates are coming back. The girls take the hint but too late! The Pirates have stealthily crept in and each one grabs a girl - their intention to marry them, I think..... This is all checked when Mabel points out that their father is a Major General. Cue for the patter song where the Major General explains who he is. The Pirates are determined to hold on to their captures but with a sudden inspiration the Major General asks 'Do you know what it is to be an orphan?' he turns the Pirates round. You will notice that even the Major General has heard of the famous Pirates. The first act ends with the Major General waving his Union jack, and the Pirates waving the skull and crossbones.
Act two commences in a ruined chapel in the grounds of Major General Stanley's property. The Major General sits pensively surrounded by his daughters. He is upset that he has deceived the Pirates by falsely describing himself to be an orphan, and has brought down shame upon his ancestors. Frederic (who is now a goody) points out that as he only bought the property some twelve months previously, they are not even his ancestors. With impeccable logic, the Major General informs Frederic that 'I don't know whose ancestors they were, but I know whose ancestors they are.
The time for the attack on the Pirates is nigh, and he calls upon Frederic to summon the Police who march in and, with their Sergeant, sing 'When the foeman bares his steel'. After this and a lot of 'tarantaras' (singing 'tarantara' gives the Police courage) they eventually go leaving Frederic by himself - but not for long. Enter the Pirate King and Ruth who threaten Frederic: There is a new twist to the story: The King has discovered that Frederic's indentures are until his twenty first birthday, and as Frederic was born in leap year on the twenty-ninth of February - he would have been thirty-three last Monday, had he survived one hundred and thirty-two years - he has only had five birthdays so far, and so is still an apprentice Pirate.
Frederic's loyalties now have to return to the Pirates and so he then informs them that Major General Stanley was telling a lie when he said he was an orphan. This annoys the King who states 'He is doomed', and sets off with Ruth to collect the rest of the Pirates and go to attack Major General Stanley, leaving Frederic to explain this to Mabel, and she swears to be true to him, and wait until he comes of age - in nineteen forty, (when he will presumably be eighty four years old, and probably not a lot of use to her).
Frederic rushes away to rejoin the Pirates as the Police arrive. Mabel tells the Sergeant that as Frederic, out of his sense of duty, has rejoined his old associates, the Police will have to attack the Pirates without him. In the famous song (which put a quotation into our language) that follows, the Sergeant gives the reasons for the lack of enthusiasm for the job. After the song, the Police hear the approaching Pirates and so decide to hide (saying 'Tarantara' to give themselves confidence),and the Pirates come on to sing 'With cat-like tread' at the tops of their voices. They too go to hide - still not seeing the Police - as the Major General enters to sing his soliloquy. The girls hear this and come on in their night-dresses and carrying lighted candles For the more salacious among you, please bear in mind that this is not 1988, page 3 etc., but 1877 (work it out for yourselves).
A lot now happens quickly: The Pirates rush out of hiding and seize the General. The Police give battle, but are quickly defeated, the Pirates standing over them with drawn swords. Then the Sergeant plays his trump card 'We charge you yield in Queen Victoria's name'. This is too much for the Pirates 'We yield at once with humbled mien' declares the King, 'Because with all our faults we love our Queen'. The Police, in tears as this is so moving, prepare to lead the Pirates away, but are stopped by Ruth who, very conveniently, says 'They are no members of the common throng, they are all noblemen who have gone wrong' The General replies that we all love our House of Peers, and so he cheerfully hands over his daughters to the Pirates, and to the strains of 'Poor Wandering One' all ends happily ever after.
You will notice in the finale of Act Two, after the Pirates 'Yield in Queen Victoria's name' that there is a quartet 'To Queen Victoria's name we bow' and a quotation from HMS Pinafore. Although this is not in the current scores of the opera, it does appear in Sullivan's original manuscript, which is now in the Pierpont Morgan library in New York. Mike Harris, our president, has obtained a microfilm copy of this and has included it in our production. He also arranged the joining of the overture to the opening of Act one, and rearranged 'With cat-like tread'.