Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado at The Festival Theatre is a new co-production between The D’oyly Carte Opera Company and Scottish Opera, and the first thing that anyone will notice about it is that this is a lavish production with a large chorus, great sets and wonderful costumes that just light up the stage with vibrant colour.
Gilbert and Sullivan works often to me very much reflect the viewpoint of a Great Britain at the height of The British Empire and a very British music hall/vaudeville tradition, and “The Mikado” is no different. This is a very British fantasy version of Japan that we have here. What makes this one so interesting though is the use of that “fantasy world” setting to attack with some sharp political commentary some of the institutions and political figures of Britain at the time. Political satire though comes with a price as it so quickly dates and becomes only relevant to historians. Somehow though “The Mikado” manages to avoid this problem, perhaps because the very objects of the satire here have never gone away and we still recognise them wherever in the world this work is performed. An updating of those on “The List” also keep this performance in sharp relevance to modern day issues. All this of course in a Japan where the Emperor “The Great Mikado” has banned under punishment of death something a commonplace as flirting.
Pooh-Bah (Andrew Shore) with his multi office (and multi–salary) status is a bribe-taking corrupt official that will unfortunately never go out of fashion and his performance here is outstanding as he corruptly weaves his way through this storyline wearing whatever hat of office suits his needs best without any principles whatsoever and loyalty only to himself.
Ko-Ko (Richard Suart) has that light comedic touch that is needed for this role. Enough to make Ko-Ko totally inept for his given role, but never taking him into the area of circus clown. A very fine line to tread and Richard does it so well.
Pish-Tush (Ben McAteer) give us an interesting (and at time wonderfully camp) take on his character with maybe a little twist that audiences of the original day may not have got...then again maybe they did, this was after all mass market entertainment at its most commercial and successful.
Our two central love interests, Nanki-Poo (Nicholas Sharratt) and Yum-Yum (Rebecca Bottone) give performances here that had the audience behind them at every twist in this plot’s turn as they delivered an almost at times classic vaudeville performance. Rebecca Bottone gave us a light and playful Yum-Yum who was so completely vain and self obsessed that she could not have been further removed from a Japanese lady of the period as you could imagine...an English society one though of the period,certainly. Nicolas Sharratt gives us a Nanki-Poo that is just a perfect fit to the double act here.
The Mikado of Japan (Stephen Richardson) and Nanki-Poo’s real father is of course an imposing figure when we get to meet him towards the end - resplendent in his Kabuki style make-up . Of course nowadays I associate the rock band Kiss so closely with that image...nothing wrong with that, just another twist on the imagery.
My favourite character and performance her though is Katisha (Rebecca de Pont Davies) who as the spurned (and far older) intended wife of Nanki-Poo just gets to have enormous fun on stage and give this over the top character amazing life and vibrancy. Dressed in black and looking at times like she has just stepped out of a Tim Burton movie, Rebecca just brings fresh life back into this story when it needs it most.
This production is one of those rare times when it all just seems to come together on stage as Director - Martin Lloyd-Evans, Designer - Dick Bird, Lighting - Mark Jonathan and Choreographer - Steve Elias and of course Conductor Derek Clark (for tonight) and a hugely talented cast and chorus bring all the separate elements together.
Favourite part of the performance for me though was having Katisha (Rebecca de Pont Davies) arrive by boat to a set based on the iconic “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” print by Japanese artist, Hokusai.
Review by Tom King