BWW Review: THE MIKADO, King's Head Theatre

BWW Review: THE MIKADO, King's Head Theatre

BWW Review: THE MIKADO, King's Head TheatreThis is The Mikado with a 21st-century sensibility that does not always sit easily with its 19th-century roots, something apparent after a skim of musical director, David Eaton's, slightly apologetic essay in the programme.

Nobody would countenance "blackface" - or its Far Eastern equivalent - in 2018, but nobody really thinks Gilbert & Sullivan's comic opera (perhaps the most performed musical/opera in English history) is really about Japan, do they? The Emperor's son masquerading as a second trombone touring the island kingdom: not exactly kabuki.

More of that later, but focusing on the joy of G&S, we get all the splendid songs from "Three little maids" to "The sun whose rays are all ablaze" via an excellent and bang up to date "I've got a little list" and "A more humane Mikado".

They're sung well, with the standouts Alys Roberts' soprano as Yum-Yum and Matthew Siveter's often moving voice as a gigantic, but plaintively touching, Katisha. Eaton's piano can sometimes feels a little overpowered (despite his usual energetic and precise playing) by the singers - still, that's better than the other way round!

The Charles Court Opera Company's director, John Savournin, has always given as much weight to the "comic" as the "opera" in his interpretations of G&S, and he gets some wonderful performances from his cast.

Philip Lee is very funny as the panicky tailor/executioner, Ko-Ko, stopping just short of panto-style hamming (at least I think he stopped short), while Matthew Kellett milks Pooh-Bah's insult-driven grasping as the biddable administrator-extraordinaire to hilarious effect.

Channeling the spirit of General Melchett, Matthew Palmer (in marvellous make-up) is a hoot, gurning and leering, seldom more than a few feet away from us, his face a roiling sea of appalling thoughts. This is as funny a Mikado as I've seen - tremendous, unapologetic entertainment.

But... but... it doesn't quite work. The whiff of Carry On Up The Khyber was never far away.

Though we're told that we're with "gentlemen in (rather than of) Japan" and the set carries a crest, "British Consul - Titipu", we're never quite sure about whether the characters are Japanese or British. Set and costume designer, Rachel Szmukler, has created some lovely 1930s outfits and a coherent vibe, but Katisha is in a kimono and The Mikado in British Army fatigues. How does a military commander hold such arbitrary authority over civilian staff? The internal consistency such farce needs to sustain itself, is spread too thin at times.

So, I'm not at all sure that this halfway house, reconciling 1885 with 2018, is pulled off - perhaps it can't be. Maybe, even in the era of Twitter outrage, it might be better simply to cast The Mikado as it has been cast for over a century and play out its topsy-turvy world as it has always played out, albeit with the director's own take on the absurdities so beautifully woven in and out of the plot. After all, nobody bats an eyelid if the Danish prince Hamlet is about as English as most, well, as most Macbeths.

The Mikado continues at the King's Head Theatre until 21 April.

Photo Bill Knight

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From This Author Gary Naylor

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