Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Review The Mikado

The Mikado
Music by Arthur Sullivan 
Book/Lyrics by WS Gilbert

The Perils of Nanki-Poo

Just think, before social networks, mobile phones, personal computers, VCRs (and there may now be a generation which does not know what the latter are!), young folks like TLT and her now vintage motorised cabriolet used to attend theatre! Not London's West End, but the local hall for hire - in what was once called 'the provinces' - for the amateur operatic society's latest offering - almost always the product of one of two partnerships, Rogers & Hammerstein or the Victorian double-act Gilbert & Sullivan (G&S).

Little TLT and her school chums glowed with pride as their primary school teachers in the cast, having disdained TV talent show Opportunity Knocks' or New Faces' auditions to remain big fish in a local pond, launched into an over-exuberant "There Is Nothing Like A Dame" or, that satire up there with Monty Python, "A Policeman's Lot Is Not A Happy One". Amateur dramatic society directors in those faraway times seemed to prefer traditional staging, although this may have been dictated by available costumes and scenery. 

Now after that flashback, we are back to the present day - and then back again to 1920s Japan for director Thom Southerland's spiffing The Mikado set in a fan and tailors' shop and re-imagined as a silent movie - with songs of course! 

Think Harold Lloyd with trademark thick-rimmed glasses for renegade Crown Prince Nanki-Poo (Matthew Crowe), in danger of losing his head. Also Gloria Swanson (the original Norma Desmond), an inspired parallel brilliantly reflecting the pathos and venom with which G&S endowed the character of spinster Katisha (a truly wonderful Rebecca Caine). Think of this and you'll get the picture ... 

And all kudos to Phil Lindley and Jonathan Lipman for set design and costumes respectively! Two cinema pianists accompany in this pared down production and the cast enthusiastically embrace the sweet dance routines created by Joey McKneely. As is only right, there is a delicious Yum Yum in Leigh Coggins with soaring assured vocals, a suitably craven Koko (Hugh Osborne with spot-on comic timing) and an imposingly expedient Mikado (Mark Heenehan). 

Ok, there is some variability in the unmiked singing - Nanki-Poo seems to be cast for fey comic charm rather than songbird ability. But as a whole it works. And beneath the colourful japonaiserie and tinkly tunes, the shark-like lurking dark satire of English politics and law still bites, perhaps more so than the customary crowd-pleasingly slick topical updating of the Lord High Executioner's 'little list'. 

So, a green light for both a brilliant director's concept and a non-Christmassy Christmas family entertainment! (And how often do you get all that in one sentence, as a Lord High Executioner might pun! ;) )