The ENO has offered up a treat this month with Jonathan Miller’s revived production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy opera, The Mikado. Only last week the hilariously, supremely white and squeaky-clean production approached its 200th show. Next year the ENO celebrate its 30th anniversary.
The comic opera, which mocks 19th century British customs in Japanese dressing, was performed 672 times at the Savoy Theatre in 1885, due to popular demand. Until this day the audience’s love for The Mikado continues to grow. It tickles new and old punters with its exuberant, up-beats songs and humorous bashing of modern politicians and celebrity culture.
Set in a 1930s hotel out of a Marx Brother film (by Stefanos Lazaridis), Nanki-Poo (Anthony Gregory) escapes his engagement to an older woman of the court, Katisha (Yvonne Howard) by disguising himself as a second trombone. On his travels, he falls in love with wide-eyed Yum-Yum (Mary Bevan) who is to marry the Lord High Executioner, Ko-Ko (Richard Suart). Yet Ko-Ko is ordered by the Mikado (Robert Lloyd) to execute himself for committing the act of flirting.
Miserably upset of Yum-Yum’s marriage to Ko-Ko, Nanki-Poo considers taking his life, but Ko-Ko intervenes and uses him as a substitute for his own execution. He hands over Yum-Yum as his wife, however, he only has a month to enjoy a life with her before his public beheading. Yet, (of course!), there’s no blood shedding or melodrama in The Mikado – it’s all fun and games with camp Busby Berkeley tap-dancing routines, debaucherous page boys and rosy-cheeked chambermaids.
In the pit, 28-year-old conductor Fergus Macleod makes his debut at the London Coliseum, to lead the company since Charles Mackerras. He welcomes the ENO crowd with a hearty and promising overture, which is performed jubilantly by the robust ENO orchestra.
Bevan sings delightfully as the ginger-haired bonny wife-to-be. (She received a loud cheer for her soaring and sweet performance of “The Sun Whose Rays” the night I saw the opera.) Gregory performs with a charming tenor tone, which matches Bevan’s dewy eyed Yum-Yum. His version of “A Wand’ring Minstrel I” is wonderful and causes audiences to bob their head to Sullivan’s addictive score.
Suart is an exemplary Ko-Ko and adds extra spice to his “little list” excoriating the likes of Jeremy Clarkson, the Liberal Democrats, who he says “doesn’t exist”, and the current prime minister’s supposed past with a ***. Suart is engaging throughout. As soon as he sets foot on stage, audiences get excited, wondering how he will perform his next line.
The serious and hard-nosed Pooh-Bah aka ‘Lord High Everything Else’ is performed by bass singer Graeme Danby. He also raises some eyebrows with his towering voice whilst shuffling along to the moves of the three sisters. One can imagine he has the toughest job out of the entire cast, playing more than ten important roles, at the same time. (Chortle.)
And bass singer, Lloyd’s portrayal of The Mikado is spot-on, bearing in mind it is his debut. Dressed in a fancy balloon suit, Lloyd fits the role vocally and characteristically as he smiles kindly at Ko-Ko before he goes off to lunch and prepare for his dessert – Ko-Ko’s execution.
The chorus and dancers also deserve pleasant cheers for hurrying themselves for the Mikado’s grand entrance, two times! The dancers shimmy in and jump for the audience’s enjoyment and laughter.
As for the the villain-like daughter-in law elect, she isn’t really evil. Sung by Howard, she proves to the audience that Katisha has a heart too as she performs “Alone, and yet alive” with pathos and retains the comedy value in the second half of the opera.
Any first-timer to the opera genre would find it difficult not laugh and enjoy this splendid and entertaining show. From start to finish, it shapes many smiles in the audience. Don’t waste a second. Go purchase a ticket today and sing along like a wandering minstrel.
Review by Mary Nguyen
Almost 30 years on from its premiere, Jonathan Miller’s dazzlingly inventive staging returns to the London Coliseum for what has become for many the definitive production of this much-loved Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera.
Set in an ever-so English 1930s seaside hotel, Miller’s Marx Brothers-inspired song-and-dance Mikado is a popular hit with audiences of all ages. The combination of Gilbert’s virtuosic wit, Sullivan’s memorable melodies and Miller’s hilarious antics is irresistible.
Distinguished bass Robert Lloyd sings the genial Mikado for the first time, 46 years after making his ENO debut, while Richard Suart, the acknowledged master of the Lord High Executioner’s pathological ‘little list’, returns as Ko-Ko. ENO Harewood Artists Mary Bevan and Anthony Gregory play the lovers Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo, while ENO Mackerras Conducting Fellow Fergus Macleod makes his company debut.
The Mikado cast and creative team
Conductor Fergus Macleod
Director Jonathan Miller
Revival Director Elaine Tyler-Hall
Set Designer Stefanos Lazaridis
Costume Designer Sue Blane
Lighting Designer Davy Cunningham
Choreographer Anthony van Laast
Ko-Ko Richard Suart
Nanki-Poo Anthony Gregory
Yum-Yum Mary Bevan
Pooh-Bah Graeme Danby
Katisha Yvonne Howard
The Mikado of Japan Robert Lloyd
Pish-Tush George Humphreys
Peep-Bo Fiona Canfield
Pitti-Sing Rachael Lloyd
At London Coliseum
St Martin’s Lane,
London, WC2N 4ES
Show Opened: 21st November 2015
Booking Until: 6th February 2016
Sung in English with lyrics projected above the stage.