Libretto: W.S. Gilbert
Music: Arthur Sullivan
Artistic Director: Alan Borthwick
Musical Director: David Lyle
Reviewer: Edie Ranvier
When you think about it, it’s funny that The Mikado has lasted like it has. Why should droves of punters still turn out to watch musical satire that was topical in the late nineteenth century? And given that they do, why should the slim premise of a made-up anti-flirting law, set in an improbably fictionalised Imperial Japan, turn into the most enduringly popular operetta in the Gilbert and Sullivan canon? But popular it certainly is. And this production, staged by the Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society under directors Alan Borthwick (artistic) and David Lyle (musical), reminds us why.
For a start, it looks absolutely gorgeous. Stage manager Helen Pendlowski, and Paul Lazell, who supplies the scenery, have done the Society proud. The curtain rises on flats of pagodas and cherry blossom, with the men’s chorus concealed behind a flashing-eyed dragon; the ladies’ chorus dresses Yum-Yum (Jennifer Murray) for her wedding against a backdrop painted like a willow pattern plate, a sumptuous stereotype. The first act ends with fireworks and the second with a shower of confetti. And the cast are decked out as finely as the stage, in a rainbow array of silks and sashes, courtesy of Molly Limpets and wardrobe mistress Karolina Anuszkiewicz – Katisha even has two pantomime Japanese lions (Charlie and Merrie Macbeth) as her over-friendly guard dogs. “Yes, we are indeed beautiful,” as Yum-Yum herself might say.
So the visuals are instantly striking, but it’s not all kimono and no talents; not by any means. Sam Selbie as Nanki-Poo is a charming and tuneful romantic hero, with a talent for by-play; Jennifer Murray as his paramour is funny and just occasionally flat, but faultlessly hits the high notes in her nerve-racking aria “The sun, whose rays are all ablaze”. Simon Boothroyd admittedly has the best material to work with as the ponderous Pooh-Bah; but he does it full justice, booming, sneering and (on one occasion) skipping to spot-on comic effect.
Colin Povey as Ko-Ko, the not-very-high Lord High Executioner, looks and sounds just right, but disappoints a little in the first act where he doesn’t extract the full bang for his buck out of what should be some of the funniest lines in the operetta. That said, his Little List of modern-day irritants whom we could cheerfully send for the chop is witty and ingenious (of Theresa May’s Strasbourg visit we’re told “the answer to the backstop is to stop her coming back”, to chuckles from an audience who on opening night have been following the course of Meaningful Vote Round 2 till just before the curtain rises). And he finds his footing in the second act, thanks perhaps to the looming foil of Barbara Scott’s Katisha, where he turns in a confident performance of Tit Willow, and some wonderful slapstick that almost makes the endless D’Oyly-Cartesque encores of “Here’s a how-de-do!” feel worthwhile. Who knew you could sing baritone patter while bouncing on a space hopper?
Scott herself has perhaps the best voice in the cast, though her acting is a touch nervous (apart from some excellent improv with a straying paper bag). And Zorbey Turkalp is a suitably imposing and statuesque Mikado, complete with reverberant laugh and fantastically precarious headdress – though he and the audience would have more fun “making the punishment fit the crime” if the brains behind the “Little List” got to work on updating the number for the twenty-first century. Train-window scribblers and billiard sharps are the least of our problems these days. Cavilling critics, perhaps?
Cavills aside, though, it’s a well-made, feel-good production that looks and sounds great. “Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory!” booms Zorbey as the second act comes to a close – and he’s not far wrong.
Runs until 16 March 2019 | Image: Contributed