Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic masterpiece is all but Teflon coated in its ability to withstand whatever ‘concept’ is imposed upon it.
It must therefore have seemed a jolly wheeze to set it at what I take to be some sort of scout camp – though there were times, especially when the chorus were wearing garrison caps, that it looked more like ‘music time with the Hitler Youth’ – but whereas in previous ‘all male’ G & S productions from Sasha Regan the concepts have had at least a passing logic (being, for example, set in the bowels of a ship in WW2 where the bored sailors act out HMS Pinafore to pass the time and amuse each other) I was completely at a loss to know why such a random setting had been chosen when the curtain went up, and having seen the production in full am still none the wiser.
This is the first of her all-male productions which has started life on the road, and though undoubtedly enjoyable and inventive at times, does seem to have suffered in not having the rough edges smoothed off prior to touring.
That being said, there are some excellent performances to enjoy along the way, as well as some unfortunate mis-casting, more of which later.
This being as all male production, the female roles are taken by men, and chief amongst them is Alan Richardson as Yum-Yum who not only sings the role disarmingly well, but also acts it better than any woman I’ve ever seen. His Act Two ‘The Sun Whose Rays’ is simple and utterly, and disarmingly, beautiful.
Jamie Jukes as Pitti-Sing, and Richard Russell Edwards as Peep-Bo complete the triumvirate of little maids, and the characterisations of both, along with Richardson’s Yum-Yum, bring a fresh air to the roles rarely seen.
David McKechnie delivers a comedy masterclass with his Ko-Ko, and although his Act One list song, ‘As Some Day it May Happen’ isn’t as absolutely topical as is sometimes the case, it is nonetheless extremely entertaining with jokes fully hitting the mark, yet his Act Two ‘On a Tree By A River’ (Tit Willow), is restrained and light, pointing out his character’s predicament at this point in the show.
The predicament is, of course, that he should have to marry Katisha, and Alex Weatherhill is imperious, if not to say scary. The sheer performance quality he brings to ‘Alone and Yet Alive’ makes me think the role should always be played by a man.
Ross Finnie’s everyman politician, Poo-Bah is suitably corruptible, and with an exemplary delivery you won’t miss a word in this un-miked production.
That being said, there are two key pieces of miscasting which weigh heavy on the show. Richard Munday as Nanki-Poo is just not right for the role, which calls for a high tenor. He has a pleasant enough musical-theatre voice, but it just isn’t up to the needs of ‘A Wand’ring Minstrel I’ which falls disappointingly flat.
The other piece of miscasting is The Mikado himself – also ill-served in the costume department – James Waud who, though pleasant enough simply comes across as, well, too nice.
And the choreography for ‘A More Humane Mikado’? It seemed that by the time choreographer Holly Hughes got there she’d completely run out of ideas so recycled a bit of Pinafore. Though the poor man wasn’t helped by the musical direction which seemed to be ‘plough on regardless of what you’re singing’.
All in all an evening salvaged only by the great performances from the usual (reliable) suspects. Come on, Sasha Regan. You can do better than this.