Composer: Arthur Sullivan
Writer: WS Gilbert
Director: Simon Butteriss
Reviewer: David Noble
Gilbert &Sullivan operettas really do have nostalgia value, something quintessentially English, something gloriously Victorian about them. This is what makes G&S endure: a refined sense of silliness that captivates comedians and linguaphiles, (where would Larry David and Aaron Sorkin be without them?), complemented by wonderfully whimsical music; melodies that niggle in the back of the brain waiting to be unleashed and unexpectedly hummed at bus stops, supermarket aisles, traffic lights. So here in New Brighton, a rare opportunity to see The Mikado in its full, non-amdram splendour, and how enjoyable this production from The Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company was.
For the uninitiated, The Mikado is perhaps the most enduring and popular of G&S operettas, and follows the tale of Nanki-Poo, the son of The Mikado of Japan, who disguises himself as a second trombone in order to escape an unwanted betrothal. As simplistic as this seems, The Mikado is really an opportunity for Gilbert to take aim at an array of fusty, monolithic British institutions. Central to this is the character of Ko-Ko, delightfully realised by actor/director Simon Butteriss, who is the rapid tongue of the production: shining a light on all the absurdities of British society. Usually this rôle steals the show, partly because it is so tremendously verbose, and this night was no different, yet I thought Claire Lees as Yum-Yum was a close second – as she was utterly brilliant.
If Gilbert’s satirical lyricism in the brain of The Mikado, then Sullivan’s sweeping score has to be the heart. Beautifully light and vibrant, it sets the tone of the piece perfectly, right from the overture, although at times the music can be lugubriously deep and brooding – as in one of my personal favourites ‘The criminal cried’. All of which is supremely delivered by the National Festival Orchestra. Not even to mention Tony Brett’s lovingly conceived costumes, in particular Katisha’s first entrance into the action was doubly striking due to her absolutely mesmerising attire.
It has to be said that Gilbert &Sullivan could be considered an acquired taste, and indeed The Mikado is very of its time, yet this is part of its charm. You have to reach beyond this to appreciate, in my opinion, some of the greatest comedic songs written in the English language, both structurally and lyrically. And what better way to do so than with this truly first rate production?
Runs until Saturday 14th June.