Currently on a UK tour, Sasha Regan’s all-male production of the famous Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera has most recently run at Richmond Theatre. It is a follow-up of sorts to previous tours of HMS Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance.
Set around the fictitious Japanese town of Titipu, wandering minstrel Nanki-Poo arrives seeking news about the girl he loves, Yum-Yum – only to find that she is engaged to Ko-Ko, the new Lord High Executioner (rebelliously appointed following him committing the ‘crime’ of flirting, which is a capital offence). No executions have taken place since his appointment, as he was next on the list, however the Mikado (the emperor) decides that Titipu will be reduced to a village if there’s no execution within a month. Eventually Pooh-Bah (a nobleman), Ko-Ko and Nanki-Poo hit on a plan: Nanki-Poo will sacrifice himself if he can be married to Yum-Yum for a month. Complications arise in the form of Katisha, who was at one time betrothed to Nanki-Poo against his wishes; she’s thrown off, but vows to find revenge in some way…
For some unexplained reason, the production appears to be set in a campsite with all of the cast dressed in the manner of scouts. Considering how long it takes for words of any kind (we begin with an overture followed by dancing), let alone words that actually tell you what’s going on, this lack of real distinction between characters is frustrating to say the least. This is also not helped by the fact that the accompaniment is a grand piano; songs become monotonous very quickly, as the already very similar tunes become nigh-on identical with no variety in the backing. A lot of the songs also seem to have very little purpose, making a long show feel even longer.
I find this kind of show completely outdated – it is very much of its time, with its oh-so-hilarious names (Titipu, really?) for one thing. I know the director has her reasons for a single gender cast, but I think it could be potentially more interesting as an all-female affair – though actually gender-inversion would be better still. In having just men it obviously means they play the girls as well, but most of them are so camp it’s excruciating.
Praise must go to Alan Richardson and Richard Munday as Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo, who are actually very watchable amidst everything else. Richardson’s voice is hugely impressive and shows incredible skill; he also doesn’t overdo things, meaning the femininity is far more natural and interesting to watch. Munday gives an engaging performance, and their scenes together are easily the highlight of the show.
Ryan Dawson Laight’s design is simple, yet effective. Its forest backdrop with bold colours immediately draws the eye, especially as the colours change at different moments in the show.
I’m sure Gilbert & Sullivan aficionados would derive great pleasure from this production, however I can state absolutely that it is not for me. The musical has taken the place of comic opera for good reason, and is a whole lot more relevant to modern audiences than something like this. Even looking at it from a purely entertainment stance it’s lacking, unless you find unrelenting Carry On style humour unquestionably hilarious. Perhaps now’s the moment to move with the times..?
My verdict? A dull and outdated affair that can’t even be saved by some astonishing vocals – one for dedicated fans only, I suspect.
The Mikado ran at Richmond Theatre from 23-27 May 2017. Full details of the tour can be found on the official website.