Writer: W.S. Gilbert
Composer: Arthur Sullivan
Director: Thom Sutherland
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Death, dictatorship and cruel punishments may not be everyone’s idea of a good night at the theatre, but The Mikado serves all these things with a lightly comic musical wrapping. This new production at the Charing Cross Theatre stays in Japan but enhances the frivolity by relocating the story from the 19th Century to the 1920s, complete with flapper girls and bobbed haircuts. Japan is in the grip of a tyrannous ruler, The Mikado, who enjoys devising cruel punishments for his subjects. Meanwhile a wandering musician, Nanki-Poo arrives in the town of Titipu looking for the girl he loves (Yum-Yum) who he has heard is to be married to the Lord High Executioner. Annoyed by the lack of executions, The Mikado orders that someone must die within the next month or the town will be downgraded to a village and economic ruin will ensue. What follows is a farcical story of disguised princes, abandoned maidens, double crossing deaths and political subterfuge before The Mikado himself comes to town.
The theme works quite well here helping to enhance Gilbert and Sullivan’s tongue-in-cheek style, and it is consistently realised across the production, evident in the design, the choreography, costumes and the characterisation. However, the theme gets a bit lost in the second Act where it becomes a little more Japanese, and there are a couple of crowd-pleasing occasions where very modern references are inserted into the songs. Largely though, the choice of the 1920s gives it a Jeeves and Wooster-like feel which emphasises the absurdity of what could be some quite dark content about state- mandated death sentences.
One danger of this kind of jovial approach is that there is little opportunity to engage with the characters or see much depth in them. Maybe that is the point, but it lacks a little drama so arguably the director may have taken too light a touch here, and even those seeing this for the first time will easily guess how the various intricacies are resolved. Matthew Crowe’s Nanki-Poo is a likeable buffoon in plus fours while Hugh Osborne’s Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko has the manner of a country vicar which is actually an enjoyable contrast with his job title. On the whole the singing is better than the acting with Katisha’s affecting solos sung by Rebecca Caine standing out.
The production took a little while to get going but once it does it has an innocent charm that keeps the audience entertained. Despite its flaws, there is a lot to like here both in the feel of the production and across the performances, including the two pianists providing all the music. For those who can’t face another panto, this enjoyable and playful Mikado could be a nice alternative.
Runs until: 3 January 2015| PhotoScott Rylander