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ENO present The Mikado by Gilbert & Sullivan | Review

ENO The Mikado 2019, ENO Chorus - Credit Genevieve Girling
ENO The Mikado 2019, ENO Chorus – Credit Genevieve Girling

The Mikado is England’s best comic opera. A masterpiece of whimsy, satire, silliness and jollity. If you wanted a definition of Englishness in all its surreal glory then The Mikado is it. Part farce, part romantic comedy it is totally captivating. It takes you out of yourself and transports you to a world of fantasy and comic joy. It’s like reading Evelyn Waugh’s “Decline and Fall” for the first time. It’s silly, funny, hilarious and jolly. Like a soufflé it rises miraculously and somehow stays upright. When it ends you just want more. It’s a wonderful cornucopia of delights. And Jonathan Miller’s masterstroke of setting it in a 1930s English hotel is pure genius. This production is like a Marx Brothers film, a PG Woodhouse novel and an episode of Fawlty Towers all rolled into one irresistible box of chocolates. Everything that’s jolly and fun is here. Its magnificent, magnetic and majestic.

The Mikado is ostensibly about the Japanese town of Titipu. The puns and double entendre in that word are intentional. In reality that’s just a fig leaf to lampoon Victorian England’s absurd puritanical code and corrupt ruling political elite. The former is made absurd by taking it to its reductio ad absurdum. Beheading for flirting! The latter is sent up in the not too farfetched figure of Pooh-Bah who has about ten different titles; Lord Chancellor, Chief Lord of the Treasury, Master of the Rolls, Chief Justice, Head of the Armed Forces and Groom to the Master of the Bedchamber. By transferring the action to Japan, Gilbert and Sullivan can indirectly send up their own times and get away with it.

Stefanos Lazaridis’ set is sumptuous. A symphony in white as it were. Everything is white, the walls, the floor, the doors, the costumes the props (even the palm leaves and the shoes) the lot. The effect is to make Titipu an Alice Through the Looking Glass upside down topsy-turvy world of doors , mirrors, entrances and exits. This all white set overlaid by all white costumes brilliantly exacerbates the painted pomp of Millers 1930s gilded elite. Sir John Tomlinson’s Mikado is superb. Looking like the Michelin man he captures perfectly the haughty distain the Emperor/King has for his subjects. He takes extra joy in mocking those who travel on Suburban trains, taking his time to dwell on every syllable (SUB UR BANNN) of the word and pointing at the stalls with his cane as he does so. The audience loved it. Elgan Llyr Thomas in his boater, striped school blazer and phallic trombone case is very good as the hapless Nanki-Poo. His Juliet is Yum-Yum (Soraya Mafi, delicious) who is every inch a St Trinian’s girl in her school uniform and Lacrosse stick singing ‘Comes a train of little ladies’ before coming on in the second act all in white and  leads the trio who sing ‘Three Little Maids’.

The wonderful Yvonne Howard is tremendous as the harridan and daughter in law elect of the Mikado, Katisha she steals the show in her insistence on the importance to be accorded to the daughter-in-law elect and is given a poignant lament in the haunting ‘Alone and yet alive!’ The Mikado wouldn’t be what it is without Ko-Ko or The Lord High Executioner. Richard Suart has made this role his own and his performance is spellbinding. Famously he has a song in which he identifies those who will be on his ‘little list’ for the chop. This is one of the great comic songs in the repertoire. It is especially updated each performance to include topical satire. A treat not to be missed. The lightness, fun and jollity are matched by the music which is wonderfully played and faultlessly conducted by the excellent Chris Hopkins. The Mikado is one of the glories of England’s national heritage. This production more than does it justice. A real treat.

5 Star Rating

Review by John O’Brien

Gilbert & Sullivan’s topsy-turvy story focuses on the unfolding love between Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum and the absurdity of laws and law-makers.

Nanki-Poo loves Yum-Yum but she’s betrothed to Ko-Ko, the new Lord High Executioner. When the Mikado orders a beheading, Nanki-Poo and Ko-Ko try to come to an arrangement that doesn’t involve anyone losing their head!

Packed full of memorable melodies, the most celebrated moment of all is the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko’s ‘little list’ song, which is always a topical highlight of Jonathan Miller’s dazzlingly inventive production.

Returning to the role he has made his own, star G&S performer Richard Suart is the scheming Ko-Ko. He is joined by Andrew Shore as Pooh-Bah. As the oversized Mikado, we welcome distinguished bass Sir John Tomlinson.

The romantic leads are played by two ENO Harewood Artists, Soraya Mafi and Elgan Llŷr Thomas.

The Mikado
London Coliseum
Booking to 30th November 2019

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  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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