Feeling a desperate pang for an unashamedly camp evening of fun? No, I’m not suggesting you visit Heaven Nightclub – I’m in fact talking about Thom Sutherland’s new production of The Mikado at the Charing Cross Theatre (on the same street, incidentally). Two dueling baby grands, Rebecca Caine’s gloriously melodramatic Katisha, Matthew Crowe’s compellingly perky stage presence… there are lots of wonderful things about this production of an incontestable classic.
The story is successfully built from Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘stock character’ method of writing; there’s the handsome young leading man, his lover, a rich-voiced old crone, a comic baritone, and so on. The archetypal patter-singing character, Ko-Ko, has recently received the title of ‘Lord High Executioner of Titipu’. Unfortunately for him, his ward (Yum-Yum) whom he wishes to marry only has eyes for young Nanki-Poo, the protagonist who must maintain a concealed identity in effort to stay well clear of the elderly viper,Katisha. The setting is of course Japan, however this is an intentionally thin disguise to partially obscure a satire of English politics of the day.
Perhaps the green, red and buff set seems a tad on the drab side, however this is off-balanced by the energy and security of the performances. Crowe’s Nanki-Poo is a bundle of boyish fun and attractively sung, although the top of the voice was often denied permission to truly blossom. Leigh Coggins’ Yum-Yum is perfectly naive and sung spectacularly well. By far the most dramatically impressive performance is that of Caine’s poised and pouty Katisha; superbly acted and feriously sung.
Dean Austin and Noam Galperin exhibit excellent control over this new arrangement for two pianos; the score is suffused with lots of typically Eastern-sounding pentatonic passages (the lively and accented overture being the most obvious example of this fun and pastiche-ridden sound-world) whilst the vocal writing nods to a hybrid of traditional English song, nineteenth-century opera and Handelian recitative.
A good smattering of well-executed gags litter the show, although I feel there are moments where the cast might need to labour the text less (or in some cases, contrastingly, dig a little deeper) in order to allow more comic fruit to ripen. A small blemish in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable production, which will almost certainly continue to improve during the course of its substantial run.