The Mikado (Gilbert and Sullivan)
Royal Carl Rosa Opera Company
reviewed by Edmund Percy
What unalloyed pleasure it was, for once, to experience a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta devoid of the ‘improvements’ visited upon it since copyright expired, thus allowing producers a free hand to ‘interpret’ the work in any way they think fit. This production of The Mikado is a reversal of that trend, a lovingly fashioned presentation which makes use of Gilbert’s original prompt book to get as close to authenticity as possible. By today’s standards, where high tech know-how enables producers to create lavish effects undreamed of by G & S, Carl Rosa’s 2 & S makes use of – by today’s standards – modest décor in a deliberately old-fashioned way. Scenery, recreated from old photographs of an early production, is of the cardboard cutout sort. Entrances and exits are, to modern eyes, rather unimaginative with most of the protagonists coming on stage from centre-rear. Costumes, though, are uniformly magnificent – and the singers they clothe are, for the most part, splendid interpreters of both words and music.
There are no weak links in this production. It would be more accurate, perhaps, to suggest that the players bring varying levels of excellence to their efforts, with star of the production unquestionably Simon Butteriss. As the ridiculous Koko, he brings the house down, generating a kind of theatrical electricity as he romps about the stage. His cavortings and malleable face which mirrors a comic range of expressions, are frankly inspired; in years, I cannot recall enjoying a G & S portrayal as much as this. The cast’s women are exceptional, too, whether in solo roles or in ensemble, whether as “three little maids from school” or the larger chorus, all a model of what synchronised singing is all about, with the clearest of diction – absolutely essential if Gilbert’s razor-sharp wit is to be savoured to the full – and a faultless feel for style..
The obligatory love interest is provided by Ivan Sharpe and Marianne Hellgren who both bring a winning sense of innocence to their characterisations as Nanki Poo and Yum Yum. Another scene stealer is Nuala Willis as Katisha, long on the shelf and desperate to marry, if not Nanki Poo (her prime target) then anyone else. There is artistry and to spare in bringing the role to life, some vocal weakness notwithstanding, a characterisation fleshed out by a repertoire of facial expressions (ranging from astonished outrage to horror) that might rival those of Marcel Marceau.Peter Ellis, known to an enormous international TV audience as Chief Superintendent Brownlow in The Bill, is here another bigwig – the Mikado himself. But for all the skill brought to bear on the role, Ellis seemed not quite at home in this pseudo-Nipponese incarnation. Then, too, he is so inextricably linked to his Bill role that it was difficult to view him as any other than the Chief Superintendent playing at G & S.
So many of the ingredients crucial for success in music theatre terms – production, casting, vocal and instrumental ability as well as spot-on evocation of mood – were here in secure equipoise. A delightful production.
COPYRIGHT © September 2001 Edmund Percy