Composer: Arthur Sullivan
Director: John Savournin
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Cherry blossom, twirling parasols, catchy songs and ridiculous not-to-be-taken-seriously scenarios are what we expect from a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. Deliciously over the top, with well-known tunes that have stood the test of time, The Mikado is one of the most popular. Who can resist Three Little Maids from School, or fail to shed a tear at the unashamedly sentimental Tit Willow?
Set in the fictitious Japanese town of Titipu, the plot revolves around the love affair between Nanki-Poo who, pretending to be a poverty-stricken musician, is really, unknown to the locals, the son of the Mikado and sweetly innocent Yum-Yum, the ward of Ko-Ko the Lord High Executioner (not that he has actually executed anyone!). Exerting his control – or attempting to do so – is Pooh-Bah, the arrogant and domineering Lord High Everything Else.
As the curtain rises, we are treated to a chorus of bowler-hatted men wearing shirts and ties with their kimonos (!). An atmospheric set forms the backdrop as the story is played out through a cornucopia of the delicious numbers which draw an audience again and again to these comic operas. This new production, directed by John Savournin, has all the well-known bits, delivered with relish by the talented cast of a unique company that devotes itself to these works. My only caveat – others may disagree – is that the introduction of present-day issues and local reference sits awkwardly at times, despite being true to the mores of the original when it was first performed in Victorian times, that did contain covert political references.
As Nanki-Poo, Robin Bailey’s melodic tenor is a joy to hear – loved his duet with Yum-Yum in Act I. Bailey proves, too, as adept at the comedic touch essential to a work such as TheMikado, going for gold in the iconic Here’s a how-de-do! The number is a perfect showcase not only for his talents but also for the soaring soprano of co-star Claire Lees as Yum-Yum, and for Richard Gauntlett in the key rôle of Ko-Ko. Gauntlett is a nimble Ko-Ko, camping it up and playing the part with relish and a glint in his eye, especially in latter scenes when he meets his match in the redoubtable Katisha, who, despite not being “attractive in appearance”, knows her onions when it comes to ensnaring a husband – even if the one she nets is not exactly her first choice. Amy J Payne gives us a brook-no-nonsense Katisha, revealing a softer side to her thorny nature in the poignant Alone and Yet Alive. Bruce Graham’s Pooh-Bah (Lord High Everything Else), full of his own importance and never one to miss the opportunity to line his pockets, is benign rather than threatening but that is how it should be. The ever-popular Donald Maxwell, making a stately entrance in the last half, threatens to steal the show with a baritone that is still deeply resonant, giving us indeed A More Humane Mikado.
This production by The National Gilbert &Sullivan Opera Company, formed just twenty years ago and with a cast that includes some of the UK’s leading performers in the genre, keeps up the high standard set by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company back in 1875 when the Savoy Operas – as they became known after the theatre built expressly for them – were first performed.
Runs until 24 October 2015 | Image: Contributed