Scottish Mikado

19 Jun

Following the rather good Pirates of Penzance a couple of years ago, Scottish Opera have moved on to The Mikado – the first time they’ve produced it – and, again toured to it to some English venues.  I caught the performance at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle on 18th June.  The reviews had been rather discouraging but it was nice and reassuring to have a full house.

It actually wasn’t half bad.  Martin Lloyd-Evans uses Japanese images – lacquer boxes, sliding doors, the great wave for his sets.  The costumes are Victorian English with Japanese elements.  It looks good.  He has some lovely ideas – the overture includes Ko-Ko doing a failed sawing the a body in half trick; Nanki-Poo has a bank of instruments around his person; Katisha is a Miss Havisham figure, the Mikado in full military uniform.  He treats Tit-Willow as a comedy number with a puppet bird, which nicely avoids it being over- sentimental and he catches the engaging silliness of the piece.  He uses the words and the music – I don’t think I’ve seen a better directed Madrigal, again turning it into a comic number rather than a slightly tedious piece of Victoriana.  Characterisation was strong and I found myself happily smiling throughout.

My one doubt was that, at times, it looked just a little too traditional and didn’t quite have the panache that it needs.  There were times, particularly with the chorus, where you felt that it needed a touch more energy, a touch more imagination to really catch light – it looked a bit cramped, routines not quite together.  That may have been due to the slightly cramped Theatre Royal stage, but the colourful, never-never-land costumes and archness of the material couldn’t stop me feeling at times that the whole thing looked a bit archaic.  And then you get Gilbert’s jokes about chopping off heads, burying alive and I was reassured – it’s a clever text, the music is wonderful and, in the end the absurdity won out.

It was helped by expert performances.  Richard Suart must have played Ko-Ko more times than anyone else living.  He understands the style but here presented a cockney, wily, rather pathetic figure, completely the star of the show.  His voice is more ragged than it was but it’s fine for this and reminded you that he’s ideally cast in these roles.  He had a splendid double act going with Andrew Shore’s Pooh Bah – catching exactly the right pomposity and singing well.  Ben McAteer was an extraordinarily costume Pish Tush and was rather funny, singing strongly.

As Katisha, Rebecca du Pont Davis doesn’t have the traditional fruity contralto but she made a hilarious and touching figure, singing really well and intelligently.  Stephen Richardson’s Mikado was keenly observed, catching just the right detachment and was probably the funniest Mikado that I’ve seen.

As the love interest, Nicholas Sharratt as Nanki Poo and Rebecca Bottone as Yum Yum were alert, catching the ridiculousness of the situation – that unique mixture of ideals tempered by acute self-interest that Gilbert gets – while reminding you that the original singers of the roles must have been rather good singers: neither managed all the challenges of the role with complete success.

Derek Clark conducted really well: the speeds were spot-on, the orchestral textures clear – you heard the details and kept things together.  The chorus sang nicely even if you wondered whether just a bit of routine might have crept in.  Diction was excellent.  I know the piece more or less by heart, so I didn’t need surtitles – I’m not sure that the audience really did either, but you tended to get laughs at the surtitles and then again with the singers.

I’ve used a few superlatives here. They’re deserved.  This was a lavish, serious, imaginative and hugely enjoyable show and it would be nice if Scottish Opera G&S could become a regular tradition.


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