The Mikado is likely Gilbert and Sullivan’s most enduring play. Opening in the West End’s Savoy Theatre in 1885, the operetta ran for 672 performances and has been revived countless times since.
Here, the action is updated to the swinging ’20s (by way of 2014, but we’ll come to that) replete with art deco styling, flapper girls and even some Charleston moves thrown into the mix for good measure. The bumbling Nanki-Poo, who just happens to be the son of the Mikado, arrives in the town of Titipu in search of his long-lost love, Yum-Yum. As Nanki-Poo finally stumbles across his sweetheart he is told that Yum-Yum is now betrothed to the town’s executioner. Things are further complicated by the arrival of Nanki-Poo’s scorned lover, intent on reclaiming her husband.
The plot is light and farcical and gets more incredulous by the minute. But it’s generally fun, despite taking a while to warm up. The performances are fine, with the ladies shining through. The amplification of the vocals was minimal and some of the male cast had trouble projecting, making the lyrics inaudible on occasion. Matthew Crowe is a delight as Nankie-Poo but he did struggle through a few numbers, especially when Leigh Coggins voice soared and cut through the auditorium effortlessly.
The sound was also a little flat due to the decision to leave the performance of the show’s intricate score down to just two pianos. The playing was top-notch but the limited instruments offered little dynamism or variety. Songs tended to merge into one.
Without a doubt, the star of the show was Rebecca Caine as Katisha, the vengeful lover. Her arrival at the end of act one is the show’s highlight as she stalks around the stage, brandishing an umbrella at anyone daring to come close enough. Caine is camp and commanding and really does elevate the entire production with stellar stage presence.
The Mikado is treated to a few unusual updates with one song re-worked to include topical references to David Mellor, Myleene Klass and The Only Way Is Essex. The song got possibly the biggest laugh of the night (which is damning with faint praise) but it did seem at odds with the rest of the production.
An alternative to panto, this production might just work for a specific audience. Overall though, the show misses the mark. The talent does as much as it can with what it’s given, but this Mikado falls flat.