The successful team that is Scottish Opera and D’Oyly Carte Opera Company has again teamed up to produce one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s best loved satirical comic operas written in 1885, The Mikado.
Though set in Japan, in the fictional town of Titipu, The Mikado is quintessentially English as it mocks and jeers through its clever word play and farce the habits and pretentions of Victorian upper class society. The story is that this Mikado (Stephen Richardson), who claims that ‘a more humane Mikado never did in Japan exist’, has decreed that all flirting is punishable by death. This gets messy when his son and heir Nanki-Poo (Nicholas Sharratt), who has fled the court to escape an arranged marriage to the agèd Katisha (Rebecca de Pont Davies), appears disguised as a wandering minstrel and falls in love with the beautiful young woman Yum-Yum (Rebecca Bottone) who is already in the sights of the equally agèd Ko-Ko (Richard Suart), who happens to be the Lord High Executioner. And so the farce begins.
The absolute Englishness of this glorious indulgence in fun and punning was of course captured perfectly by Jonathan Miller’s version in 1987 that was recently revived by English National Opera. Miller sums it up by saying “It is clearly the English titarsing around and simply being silly…” and so capitalised on that in his decadent 1920s version. Beat that!
This latest joint production may not beat it but they have created something else that is equally joyous. Far from shrinking from the story’s dark undertones, it embraces them with wide open arms. From the overture that’s accompanied by a Victorian music hall scene featuring ‘The Great Ko-Ko and his Box of Death’, to the chorus of the Gentlemen of Japan appearing as heads on blood soaked platters like live clowns at a sideshow waiting to have balls thrown in to their open mouths, to a monstrous skeleton as backdrop to Katisha’s lament, Alone and yet Alive, death and sorrow are macabre dancing partners to the silliness and farce that inhabit the show.
Dick Bird’s beautifully styled costumes are a fantastic amalgam of Western and Japanese style that sum up the piece nicely as do his immaculate sets. Martin Lloyd-Evans returns to Scottish Opera to direct this glorious production with its cheeky and subversive air of comic mayhem with Ben McAteer’s barely suppressed camp Pish-Tush sending gay semaphore to the oblivious one- man band that is Nicholas Sharratt’s excellent Nanki -Poo.
Katisha (Rebecca de Pont Davies), the ‘daughter-in-law elect’ of The Mikado, emerges from an immense Hokusai style wave like a reverse Venus but while her singing sounds faultless, the role seems passionless as she lacks the smothering, all embracing physicality the character demands. Stephen Richardson as The Mikado delivers a splendid baritone of My Object All Sublime but Richard Suart as Ko-Ko has made this role his very own and is definitely the man of the match! From the sanitised and current version of I’ve Got a Little List , where his accent shifts from Cockney fly man to Etonesque as befits his role to which he was ‘wafted by a favouring gale’, to his rendition of Tit Willow with a crow puppet that is comedy heaven, he is master of it throughout.
With accompanying music from the Orchestra of Scottish Opera led by Anthony Moffat and conducted by David Steadman and Derek Clark, this mirror on the perils of hypocrisy, self -aggrandisement and vanity told with tantalising tongue twisters is a treat from start to finish.
1-5 June at 7.15pm and tour continues to Belfast, Newcastle, Bristol and Southampton