Charles Court Opera specialises in small-scale productions of Gilbert and Sullivan plus other operas and operettas, touring them all over the UK. This week the company has landed at a former paint factory in East London as part of the Arcola Theatre’s ‘Grimeborne’ season. It is a real tonic – very funny, superbly sung and acted and imaginatively directed by John Savournin. The sort of production that is liable to convert those who say that they do not enjoy Gilbert and Sullivan – assuming, that is, that they can manage to acquire a ticket in the 200-seat thrust stage auditorium!
The Mikado can cause problems for directors who do not wish that their cast should try to be ‘Japanese’ in what is perhaps the most ‘British’ of all the Savoy Operas! Savournin neatly sidesteps this problem by setting his production in the British Consulate in a mythical town in Japan, changing a few of Gilbert’s lines and omitting one song in Act Two.
Ko-Ko, the cheap tailor elevated to the role of Lord High Executioner in the original, becomes Colin Cole, an East End tailor. Matthew Kellett has developed a totally believable persona for this role. He is always watchable and very amusing with crystal clear diction, as have the rest of the company. His ‘little list’ hits the mark and his duet with Katisha is one of the many highlights of the evening. She is played by Amy J Payne in full army uniform replete with medals – one of the few singers I have heard who is able to make Katisha’s second act solo very moving rather than dull!
Consulate diplomat Hugh Barr, in charge of everything, is gorgeously sung by Matthew Siveter: he is an artiste who really understands the style needed for G and S – in his case, ever so slightly camp but never ever sending up Gilbert’s material, and therefore most amusing. I have seen him in several other productions and he never fails to impress. He is a young singer to watch!
Robin Bailey as Charles Chauncey Drew, the Mikado’s son, exhibits a superb tenor – creamy in tone and even throughout its compass. He can also act! and as the ‘romantic lead’ is, again, very funny!
Victoria Plum, his love interest, is charmingly portrayed by Alys Roberts: her second act solo being something to cherish. One assumes that she and Milly King (Meriel Cunningham – exhibiting a superb mezzo voice) plus Pip Bow (Jennifer Clark) are either employed by the British Embassy, or daughters of Embassy staff – but it matters not a jot! All three exhibit a terrific joie de vivre and energy, as do the rest of the cast!
Director John Savournin also plays Peter Rush in Act One: his song near the start of Act One is usually glossed over, but in Savournin’s hands it actually means something and forwards the plot, as must have been intended. In Act Two he removes his spectacles and changes into army uniform for the role of The Mikado himself. What is noticeable about Savournin, and indeed about all eight members of the cast, is that they are all true ‘singing actors’, always serving the show itself and exhibiting a rare understanding of the style of the piece – which is why this production works so well.
David Eaton has the ability to make an upright piano sound as much like a full orchestra as possible, a clever but simple set, working well with the audience on three sides, has been designed by Rachel Szmukler and imaginative lighting by Rachel E Cleary ensures that faces are always lit as well as creating mood; the witty choreography is by Damian Czarnecki.
This is one of those evenings which is totally enjoyable, but often surprising even if you think you know The Mikado well! You leave the theatre feeling uplifted and that all is right with the world!! Very, very highly recommended – if you can buy, beg, borrow or even steal a ticket, do so!!! The Arcola Theatre is a two-minute walk from either of Dalston’s Overground stations. My only regret is that I am not allowed to award it more stars than I have!
Review by John Groves
The award-winning “masters of Gilbert & Sullivan in small spaces”, Charles Court Opera, present their intimate, highly successful 5 star London production of the most loved of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas, The Mikado.
The scheming Lord High Executioner is about to hatch one plot too far, with far-reaching and hilarious consequences for everyone involved, especially when the ruler himself arrives… Gilbert’s pen was rarely sharper than when he wrote this punchy, lively satire, which contains familiar songs by Sullivan, including ”I’ve got a little list” and “The sun whose rays”, that are by turns toe-tapping and sumptuous. Presenting this satirical farce for a modern audience, CCO’s witty, sophisticated staging places the characters at the forefront, and promises to be a treat for operetta lovers and newcomers alike.
Charles Court Opera presents
By Gilbert & Sullivan
Directed by John Savournin
Musical Direction by David Eaton
19 September – 23 September 2023