Pirate Song

Pirate Song tells the true story of two 18th-century female pirates, Mary Read of England and Ann Bonny of Ireland. To go to sea, they disguised themselves as men, and mixed business with pleasure by becoming lovers in 1720 while aboard a pirate ship captained by Calico Jack Rackham. When attacked by the British crown later that year in Jamaica, the two women put up a fierce fight (unlike their male comrades who cowered in the hold), but were captured. Pirate Song begins at their trial: the judge finds pirates Mary Read and Ann Bonny guilty, and asks if they have anything to say in their defence. Mary tells of her brutal pirate mother; Ann tells of abuse and abandonment by her lover Calico Jack Rackham, and how she found solace in Mary. The judge sentences both women to hang. They respond with a desperate duet in which they “plead the belly”, claiming to be pregnant, which under English common law would postpone their hanging. Their request is granted, though their fate is merely suspended, as they are doomed to hang after their babies are born.

Pirate Song was commissioned by Janice Isabel Jackson, who premiered it in Halifax in 2017.