Friday, 5 December 2014

The Mikado: Christmas fun at the Charing Cross Theatre

The Mikado - Charing Cross Theatre - photo credit Scott Rylander
photo credit Scott Rylander
Gilbert and Sullivan The Mikado; Charing Cross Theatre
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Dec 2 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Christmas fun in a lively new staging of the G&S perennial

This December, if you want a light-hearted evening out at a musical you cannot go wrong with this production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Mikado’ at the Charing Cross Theatre.

The first Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) and William Schwenck Gilbert (1836-1911) collaboration was in 1871 with ‘Thespis’. In 1875 the theatre producer, Richard D'Oyly Carte, brought the pair back together in a partnership which would last the next fifteen years, until an irrevocable argument about finances split them up. By 1884, when Sullivan refused to set the libretto Gilbert was working on about a magic lozenge, creative differences were already showing. A truce in the strained collaboration between the famous duo resulted in the ‘Mikado’ being written in a year later.

The Mikado - Charing Cross Theatre - photo credit Scott Rylander
photo credit Scott Rylander
The origins of the idea behind the ‘Mikado’ have been romanticised in the Mike Leigh film ‘Topsy Turvy’. However there seems to be some doubt about the veracity of contemporary accounts - the time lines of the writing of the libretto and the Victorian exhibition of Japanese culture (The Japanese Village in Knightsbridge), where it is alleged Gilbert got the idea, do not add up.

Directed by Thom Southerland this version of the ‘Mikado’ is set somewhere around the 1920’s in Japan. With an art deco and lacquer box-inspired set, cloche hats and short bobbed wigs for the ladies, spats and flouncy waistcoats for the gentlemen – all the action takes place within the Titipu Umbrella and Fan Factory and shop.

Although billed as ‘Hobson’s Choice-inspired’ do not let that put you off – this is no far-fetched re-imagining of Mikado. In fact it remains very true to the well-loved original. A couple of the comic songs are updated (as expected) including the very funny – ‘I’ve got a little list’ sung by the delightfully harried Hugh Osborne as Ko-Ko, and the Mikado’s song.

The Mikado - Charing Cross Theatre - photo credit Scott Rylander
photo credit Scott Rylander
The dancing for soloists and chorus, choreographed by Joey McKneely, was an entertaining cross between line dancing and charleston, and the singing was nicely varied in the style of music hall rather than opera. The versatile Rebecca Caine, who has both opera (ENO, Glynbourne) and musicals in her portfolio, was the Queen of the Night masquerading as Katisha and Mark Heenehan, who along with all his theatre and musical credits used to be a tellytubby, was the grandiose Mikado.

The comedy continued with Matthew Crowe (Nanki-Poo), Steve Watts (Pooh-Bah), and Jacob Chapman (Pish-Tush), and with the three little maids Sophie Rohan (Peep-Bo) and Cassandra McCowan (Pitti-Sing) led by Leigh Coggins (Yum-Yum - who with Caine was the singing star of the show). All the acting and solos made the most of comic timing and, although their voices were very different in style and character with some stronger than others, the ensemble passages, especially in the ‘Three little maids’ and the madrigal, were nicely blended.

The Mikado - Charing Cross Theatre - photo credit Scott Rylander
photo credit Scott Rylander
The whole ensemble was ably and sympathetically accompanied by two pianos (Dean Austin and Noam Galperin). They had the whole orchestra to play - and a vocally varied cast, who stretched timings as far as they could, to contend with.

It is hard to keep something like the ‘Mikado’ fresh and interesting without compromising Gilbert and Sullivan’s genius – but this is what this production achieved. There are nice little quirks of scenery and props, some beautiful costumes, and well written updates to the text – all of which the cast joyously threw themselves into. This is not high opera, nor even an opera production, but yet it has its own charm which more than compensates.

The Mikado runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until early next year.

Chorus:
Andrew Dovaston, Alyssa Martin, Kayleigh McKnight, George Tebutt, Zac Wancke, Josh Wylie

Reviewed by Hilary Glover

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