“The Japanese equivalent for hear, hear, hear”
Though I am most familiar with the score, I’ve never actually seen a production of The Mikado before. The Pirates of Penzance was my Gilbert & Sullivan show of choice, due to a childhood obsession with the film version, and there have been precious few opportunities to see much G&S (the all-male versions aside) in London in recent years. Director Thom Southerland has had great success with chamber musicals like Parade and Titanic (even if I wasn’t that much of a fan of the latter) so news of a radically reconceived version, set in a 1920s fan factory, provoked more interest than concern.
It’ll be interesting to see how those who know the show better react but for me, it is highly entertainingly done. Lyrical updates include a predictable attack on reality TV wannabes but also a truly witty, and bang-up-to-the-minute, sift through political mis-steps in Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko’s list, delivered with a twinkly mischievousness by Hugh Osborne. And though I was one of just a few to apparently catch it at this performance, there’s a great Strallen reference in amongst many others during Mark Heenehan’s ‘A More Humane Mikado’ and what a fetching Mikado he doth make too.
But almost more successful than these contemporary references is Southerland’s decision to set it in the 20s. The Hobson’s Choice vibe of the factory fits nicely into the interpretation with Jacob Chapman’s Pish-Tush as a shop steward of sorts but the production genuinely revels in the period detail – Jonathan Lipman’s costumes are all vibrantly coloured dropped waistlines and smart spats, and Philip Lindley’s design makes good use of period fonts to evoke the surroundings of the Titipu Fan and Umbrella Factory.
Joey McKneely’s choreography is the show’s ace though, capturing the cheeky energy of the era and applying it to the camaraderie of the factory workers. So the “little ladies” are given charismatic agency (perhaps even inspiring the machinists of Made in Dagenham) with their kicks and flicks, and the company come together beautifully in the stirring Act One Finale (usually the highlight of any G&S show) – seriously, the “with joyous shout…” sequence looks and sounds just sensational and instantly made me want to see it again.
MD Dean Austin and his fellow pianist Noam Galperin give a wonderfully rich account of the score on their baby grands and there’s delights aplenty in the resourceful company. Rebecca Caine is malevolent yet misunderstood as a vocally outstanding Katisha who just wants to be worshipped, and Leigh Coggins’ Yum-Yum makes a winsomely youthful rival who is equally precise with her voice, backed up excellently by Cassandra McCowan’s appealing Pitti-Sing and Sophie Rohan’s amusingly sullen Peep-Bo. Just the treat for a most entertaining night at the theatre.