Jonathan Miller’s hilarious production of The Mikado is certainly one worth seeing. This iconic production returns to the ENO’s Coliseum to celebrate its 200 performances on stage, almost 30 years after its opening in 1986.
The Mikado is a brilliant comic opera with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. Using the distance that the setting of Japan provides, the creators offer an amazing satire of the English society and political absurdity of the monarchy. Gilbert implicitly, and yet very successfully, criticizes with Ko-Ko’s character the absence of true justice in a monarchy. Richard Suart is excellent in envisioning the injustice of a political system which allows its leaders to come up with groundless new laws, ordering for instance that Yum Yum is to be buried alive after her husband has been beheaded, simply because this is what Ko-Ko desires to do.
Set designer Stefanos Lazaridis and costume designer Sue Blane have managed to create a very interesting world on stage, where the white colour prevails in both set and costumes. The design brilliantly highlights the absurdity of these characters, who in combination with the very stylized choreography, are often seen as caricatures. Lazaridis has managed to create a fantastic set, by employing many straight lines and intensifying thus the strictness of this society. While the production’s design carries a Japanese air of art and fabrics, there is no attempt to make this depiction 100% accurate. The production reflects beautifully the humour and the vision of Gillbert’s and Sullivan’s Japan, seen through their distorted lenses. In this society were flirting is considered to be a crime and where the offenders are punished with decapitation, The Mikado achieves to raise through comedy an important variety of profound themes, such as love, death, justice, happiness, as well as the nature of beauty.
The excellent cast portrays with great mastery the absurdity of their roles. We ought to mention the very good choreography by Anthony van Laast, whose cartoon-like sequences heighten the satire of the production. Highlight of the first act is certainly the ensemble of the beheaded men – where with the beheaded costumes and the stylized choreography we are given one of the best moments of satire in the play.
The brilliant cast is led by a very talented conductor. Indeed, what truly makes this production even better is the clarity of the sound, which allows the audience to appreciate Sullivan’s music. When realizing that the conductor, Fergus Macleod, is only 28 years old – which makes him the youngest conductor to lead the company – one cannot help to be astonished by the precision with which the he executes his task.
Director Jonathan Miller has realized a very impressive production. It is definitely a good treat, and a production that will provoke much thought, but also much laughter!