Bill Knight

The Mikado

Reviewer's Rating

What is the opposite of “turning in your grave”? Because whatever it is that is what W. S. Gilbert is surely doing today. He was the master of gentle but telling satire and would, I am sure, have been enchanted by John Savournin’s version of his great Victorian comic opera which opened at the Kings Head this week. To re-imagine the piece, and to transfer the setting to the British Consulate at Titipu in an imaginary Japan, is a master-stroke. And the energy and exuberance that the small cast bring to the show – both to the wonderful music and to the fast-paced comedy – make this an evening of magic.

Nanki-Poo is the son of the Mikado. He has fled in disguise from his father’s palace to escape the attentions of Katisha, an ambitious and ‘mature’ lady of the court. He arrives in Titipu to pursue Yum-Yum, the girl of his dreams. To his dismay he finds that she is about to marry Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner. The course of true love runs anything but smoothly, and the situation becomes even more complicated when the Mikado and Katisha turn up – but all ends happily.

Philip Lee is a splendid Ko-Ko. His estuary accent, his spiv-on-the-make demeanour and his ability to manufacture fake news at the drop of an amigasa are backed up by a very fine tenor voice – this is a Ko-Ko worthy of the Savoy. Wandering minstrel Nanki-Poo is played by Jack Roberts with a sweet high tenor voice and an even sweeter persona as the lovesick prince. His duets with Yum-Yum could not have been delivered with more sincerity and it is this ability to play the drama straight when necessary that director John Savournin has captured so well – it makes the comic effect so much funnier in Gilbert and Sullivan when there are the momentary hints of real emotion. Alys Roberts is spot-on as the rather too knowing schoolgirl Yum-Yum – her reaction when she learns that the wife of a “beheadee” has to die too is one of many moments of comic bliss in the show. She, and her two friends played by Jessica Temple and Corinne Cowling, are not only brilliant comics but they sing like larks – showing to perfection just what a fine composer Sullivan was, even with comic subjects that he reputedly found stultifying.

Matthew Kellett, the venal Lord High Everything Else, almost succeeds in making bribery charming and Matthew Palmer as a Mikado modelled on the retired Major General who has drunk one too many pink gins is just the right mix of sadist and buffoon. And an enormous cheer for Matthew Siviter for his dignified and hilarious drag queen version of Katisha – a role that can sometimes seem like a cheap sneer at older women – but not in this production!

So many top notch performances – but it is the speed and slickness of Savournin’s direction that makes this a five star success. It is a miracle of team work that keeps the eight singers in constant movement around the tiny performing space of the back room of the Kings Head. I have seen the Mikado many times and I have never laughed so much. Another triumph for Charles Court Opera.