Music: Arthur Sullivan
Lyrics: W S Gilbert
Director: Sasha Regan
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
From the moment the piano strikes up for the brief overture and the curtain opens to reveal three white canvas tents, it’s clear that this is not your traditional Mikado. Creating a whole new setting for this popular, but rather dated Gilbert and Sullivan operetta not only gives it some new energy but gets round any problems associated with cultural misappropriation. Of course, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1885 tale of an unlikely and unfortunate love triangle was never really about Japan, but a satirical stab at the current political situation in Victorian Britain and the universal cast of characters that play out the story – the trickster, the pompous older man, the teenage girl whose life is not her own, the frumpy and unloved middle aged woman – and they’re all given a new life here.
The Mikado recounts a strange story of a town where the laws are implausible and the law-makers doubly so. Flirting is outlawed and the town is in danger of being relegated to a village if the executioner doesn’t find a head to remove. When a wandering minstrel strolls into town to claim the love of his life he finds her about to be married to her ward, the conniving Ko-Ko, but there’s plenty of twists and turns that delay marital bliss for either of them – until the nicely tied up ending of course.
In an English woodland, there’s a very Swallows and Amazons feel to Sasha Regan’s production, or perhaps that should be Boy’s Own, because, like Regan’s earlier G&S productions, this is an all male cast. Gilbert and Sullivan musicals are pretty camp to begin with and Regan’s production in no way plays this down. The chorus of ‘schoolgirls’ – all good looking guys in short shorts and flower garlands – play deliciously with the gender-bending, sometimes evoking Titania’s fairies, sometimes an up-market gay club. It’s great fun. The same treatment of the main characters, though, would have been overbearing, and Regan has cleverly made both Yum-Yum (Alan Richardson) and Katisha (Alex Weatherhill) almost genderless, focusing instead on their characters and situations. This is helped along marvellously by their extraordinary voices, Richardson maintaining a glorious falsetto throughout and Weatherill’s rich alto which is perfect for the part.
Wetherill’s Katisha makes a late appearance in the proceedings but that doesn’t stop him having some show-stealing moments, particularly in the scene where he’s wooed by David McKechnie’s Ko-Ko in a beautifully pitched scene which makes the most of both actors’ sharp comic timing.
The show is beautifully designed by Ryan Dawson Laight, and lit in warm summer colours by Tim Deiling. A simple set allows for much inventive physical comedy from the cast. Tent flaps and windows open and close like doors in a slapstick comedy, to conceal and reveal, and to frame some wonderfully choreographed moments. There is a fair amount of dancing that seems slightly unnecessary, especially as the show is fairly long, but it brings a joyous exuberance to the production that adds to the fun of it all. Richard Baker’s piano accompaniment keeps the whole thing moving at a fast pace.
This Mikado is a great introduction to those coming to Gilbert and Sullivan for the first time – contemporary and quirky yet ultimately respectful to the original operetta – but will charm those who’ve seen it multiple times with its fresh approach.
Runs until 29 July 2017 | Image: Contributed