In the theatrical world, there is a story that the Savoy Hotel was built using the profits from “The Mikado”. Whilst this is not necessarily true, it does indicate the popularity of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera. And going on last night’s production at the Charing Cross Theatre that popularity is as assured today as it was when the show was first performed in 1885. The Mikado is a wonderfully versatile opera which can be set almost anywhere – possibly most famously in a hotel reception – and this time we are taken to the Titipu Umbrella and Fan Factory owned and run with a rod of iron by The Mikado himself. The story is a pretty traditional one for opera. Complicated love, spurned ruthless women, a prince pretending to be a second trombonist, the usual. The reality is that this is one of the earliest and best loved satirical takes on British politics and institutions using themes of death and cruelty to marvellous comic effect.
This version really plays up to this with wonderful costumes – bowler hats and pinstripes for the men, flapper dresses for the ladies – and very British accents all the way through, slightly disconcerting with the opening number “If you Want to Know Who We Are” whose second line is “We are Gentlemen of Japan” sung by men and women together.
Into the factory comes Nanki-Poo (Matthew Crowe) a wandering minstrel in love with the beautiful Yum-Yum (Leigh Coggins) who is ward to the Lord High Executioner (Ko-Ko (Hugh Osborne) who is marrying Yum-Yum the next morning – still with me? The other main characters in the factory are the ‘foreman’ Pish-Tush (Jacob Chapman) and Pooh-Bar (Steve Watts) who holds every office in the town – except Lord High Executioner – and, whilst considering himself above the mere peasantry (being of noble birth himself) is willing to sooth his conscience on being offered bribes to help ‘smooth’ the path of life for those that can afford it. Ko-Ko is informed that if there is not an execution in the town of Titipu within a month, the Mikado will downgrade it to a mere village. There is a wonderful scene where Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and Pish-Tush sit over lunch and try to work out who to execute – obviously not one of themselves – in order to fulfil the wishes of the Mikado. Nanki-Pooh provides what seems to be the perfect solution as he no longer wants to live since he cannot have his Yum-Yum. What follows next is a wonder to behold as the scheming Ko-Ko convinces Nanki-Pooh to let him execute him in exchange for marrying Yum-Yum. The bargain is struck and all is going swimmingly with a lively engagement party on the factory floor when in bursts Katisha (Rebecca Caine). Katisha is an elderly lady of the Mikado’s court who is bequeathed to Nanki-Pooh (now revealed to be the Emperor’s son in disguise) and she is out to get her man.
The second act sets out to resolve all of these threads. Unfortunately even more complications arise when it transpires that the wife of an executed man has to be buried alive with her husband. Somehow this alters Yum-Yum’s views of marriage to Nanki-Poo – ah fickle woman – and everyone sets to work once more to find a way around the problem. Once the Mikado ((Mark Heenehan) himself arrives, it all goes pear-shaped for Ko-Ko and his friends and it really looks like it’s the end for all of them, but is it?
This was a fantastic telling of The Mikado. The setting is perfect, as are the costumes – there were definite looks of envy at Yum-Yum’s amazing wedding kimono. I loved the direction by Thom Southerland and the unusual orchestral arrangement, just two pianos under the control of Musical Director Dean Austin. In fact there were so many highlights for me that it is difficult to name them all. However, Ko-Ko’s “Little List” was fabulous. In keeping with tradition, it highlighted all those irritants of current life and had the audience roaring with laughter, and I was totally with the Mikado in having punishments fit the crime during his wonderful rendition of “A More Humane Mikado Never Did Exist in Japan”. I also want to single out Rebecca Caine who delivered a performance of Katisha worthy of Covent Garden. What an amazing voice. Finally Jacob Chapman’s Pish-Tush was so great to watch. Camp as a row of tents, he gave an outstanding performance and had the most highly expressive face I’ve ever seen.
Overall, this is a really awesome show, G&S at their best and delivered by a fantastic cast. It’s only on until the 3rd of January so give yourself a Christmas treat and get those tickets booked now.
Review by Terry Eastham
In this production, which boasts a Noël Coward sensitivity, Gilbert & Sullivan’s delightful, much-loved score will be performed acoustically on two baby grand pianos. This Hobson’s Choice-inspired take on The Mikado is set in the Titipu Umbrella and Fan Factory, owned by The Mikado. All the familiar characters and songs remain intact, including Yum-Yum, Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing, who sing the classic Three Little Maids From School Are We, as workers in the department providing fans for local schools.
The cast includes Rebecca Caine (Katisha) and Mark Heenehan (The Mikado), with Matthew Crowe, Leigh Coggins, Hugh Osborne, Steve Watts, Jacob Chapman, Sophie Rohan, Cassandra McCowan, Alyssa Martin, Kayleigh McKnight, Andrew Dovaston, Josh Wylie, Zac Wancke and George Tebbutt.
Charing Cross Theatre
London, WC2N 6NL
Box office: 08444 930 650
Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm
Saturday matinee at 3.00pm
27th November 2014 to 3rd January 2015
Wednesday 3rd December 2014