The Mikado is one of the most well known Comic Opera’s/Operettas created by Arthur Sullivan and William Schwenck Gilbert. Premiering in 1885 at the Savoy Theatre and running for almost 700 performances, The Mikado was the second longest running Musical Theatre piece up until that time. It remains the most frequently performed Savoy Opera, and it is especially popular with amateur and school productions. The work has been translated into numerous languages and is one of the most frequently played musical theatre pieces in history. The original use of the show was to satirise British politics and institutions and Gilbert got away with it by setting it in Japan and spreading out the ridicule over a few Operettas he created.
Nanki-Poo arrives to marry his beloved Yum-Yum, however she is already betrothed to Ko-Ko, her aged guardian. He coincidentally makes a deal with Nanki-Poo (as he is in need of serving The Mikado) that he can marry Yum-Yum for a month before he is then needed by Ko-Ko. Later on we find Nanki-Poo has another woman’s love along with a twist in the tale – what Musical Theatre piece would be complete without any drama?
The Charing Cross Theatre used to be an old Victorian Music Hall, often described as a ‘hidden gem’, which offers a vast array of performance genre’s from Drama, Musicals, Comedy, Cabaret and the occasional late night show. The set of The Mikado made use of minimal props, the multiple exits on and off stage as well as the utilising moveable set for more than one purpose. The production itself is very good and well put together. The cast and the use of space is good, as Charring Cross isn’t the largest of spaces.
Director Thom Southerland radically re-conceived this version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Operetta. In this production (which boasts a Noël Coward sensitivity), Gilbert & Sullivan’s delightful, much-loved score was performed acoustically on two baby grand pianos (aiding the Operetta feel). 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. I personally thought the re-working of the original story to fit contemporary audiences was a very wise decision and will pay off well with interest in the show.
Overall the cast are very talented. There are some performers in the show with very impressive credits, such as Rebecca Caine (originating Cosette in Les Miserables in London as well as being the first Christine Daaé in the Canadian cast of Phantom of the Opera) and Leigh Coggins (covered and played – Christine and Cosette on the 25th Anniversary Tours of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables). These two extremely talented women – along with Matthew Crowe absolutely stole the show for me. The rest of the cast were very good, however, these three leads have such deliciously easy vocals it’s hard not to melt when hearing them. Hugh Osborne delivered the comedy extremely well in the edited version of ‘As Some Day It May Happen’ referencing such contemporary issues as the ‘Twittersphere’, the cast of Made In Chelsea and The Only Way Is Essex as well as ridiculing politicians – getting howls and woops of laughter from audience members. However, when singing ‘On A Tree By A River…’ in Act Two, his vocals were noticeably weaker compared to the other cast members.
The Mikado appeals to all ages. People who know of G&S’ work from previous productions, or are Musical Theatre students will go and see the show and the older generations will enjoy the music (although might not comprehend all the contemporary references throughout the show). The younger generations may enjoy it more as an ‘old school’ Musical Theatre piece who will also grasp the modern humour. This show has something for everyone. I over-heard people in the auditorium saying they weren’t normally Opera fans however because this production wasn’t as ‘twee’, and is rather stripped back compared to other opera productions they were thoroughly enjoying it!
Standout moments from the show come from Matthew Crowe for his silky smooth voice, voluptuous vibrato and charmingly good looks. Rebecca Caine for her sheer mastery of the art of performance, the singing, the acting and the brilliant characterisation – all incredible. Last, but by no means least, Leigh Coggins for her extremely accurate acting choices for Yum-Yum, easy vocals – with immense control – and for her enthralling rendition of ‘The Sun, Whose Rays Are All Ablaze’.
Reviewed by Thomas Yates
The Mikado is playing at the Charing Cross Theatre until 3 January 2014.