United Kingdom Gilbert & Sullivan, The Mikado: The Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company, The Plaza Theatre, Stockport 11.7.2014 (RJW)
Mkado of Japan — Matthew Kellett
Nanki-Poo — Nick Allen
Ko-Ko — Simon Butteriss
Pooh-Bah — Bruce Graham
Pish-Tush — John Savournin
Yum-Yum — Claire Lees
Pitti-Sing — Tammy Davies
Peep-Bo — Ruth Betteridge
Katisha — Sylvia Clarke
Director – Simon Butteriss
Musical Director – David Steadman
Designer – Tony Brett
Nothing could have been better than to bring a vibrant production of The Mikado to Stockport on such a lovely, sunny day. The production was lively, well played, ell sung and the orchestra were on particularly good form. I liked the buzz of circus-like opening which, had it not been so slick, would have been over-the-top with the hectic routines, but it worked. A strict and grim-faced Pish Tush kept the courtiers under firm control and with an air of obsessive cleanliness kitted them out with dustpans and brushes to keep the stage clean. The idea of scattering petals was a nice touch.
Pooh Bah was classically played and bounced his retorts nicely off a confident Ko Ko who stood up to his formidable opponent. Between them their industrious exchanges kept a good pace. Nanki Poo sang ‘A wand’ring Minstrel I’ well with appropriate stage movement. And for a change he did not have the lute that has accompanied every Nanki Poo actor since Scottish tenor Durward Lely in the part introduced the lute for the Mikado’s première in 1885. Criticism has always been made of why a second trombonist should ever play a lute so it was good to see the instrument dropped on this occasion. Yum-Yum carried a delightful air of delicate charm and I’m pleased that she did not lower herself to level of the somewhat nauseating over-confidence of some of the chorus girls: school girls they may be but should they ever dare to be over-familiar with members of the Japanese Court? Does the importance of those who demand obedience of their subjects be forgotten? The removal of Katisha’s wig in the Act I finale seemed quite unnecessary since this helped create the stage character in the first place.
Yum-Yum’s ‘Sun whose Rays’ was a delight. Very good also were the four trios, all nicely balanced, clear in diction and well grouped. Especial mention should be made of the scene in Act II where interaction between Ko Ko and Katisha was exceptionally well acted: both have to start with hatred towards each other and then through reasoned and convincing dialogue deliver a mood change, eventually find affection and even glee to be able to launch into ‘There is Beauty in the bellow of the Blast’. Only with careful planning and rehearsal could such a scene be delivered so perfectly. Ko Ko’s ‘Little List’ was hilarious from the start: usually only the lyrics of verse three are brought up-to-date, but mention of the Brazilian Football team and comment on a dilatory Minister of Education in verse one was witty and most welcomed from this mainly middle-aged plus audience. All three verses were cleverly rhymed to topical news and society figures thanks to Simon Butteriss’s skill in word-setting.
I had to consider how well the character of a playful and lackadaisical Mikado worked – hardly the fearsome figure we all expect, yet played in a way that puts Kaisha in firm control as the plot dictates. Some will like it, others will not. Sucking a large hanky seemed a bit over-the-top and reminded me of the Jessie Bond as Constance photograph found in some Gilbert & Sullivan books where she sucks her white apron. I liked the sumo wrestlers with the tasseled tits miming out the ‘A’ & ‘B’ song, ‘See how the fates their gifts allot’. Their costumes were cleverly contrived. In fact all costumes in this production were elegant with much delicate embroidery in evidence.
Despite the limitations of stage depth in this theatre the two sets were attractively displayed in bright colours on a Terrine (1908) design for Act I, while the second act showed a pagoda on a hill, and some Salvador Daliesque rocks and wild tree roots provided character to the scene and provided ‘corroborative detail to an otherwise bald narrative’.
Raymond J Walker