Tag Archives: Sasha Regan

Camp Mikado

18 Jun

The Sasha Regan All-Male Mikado, which I saw at the Theatre Royal in Brighton on 17 June in the evening, is set in a camp in the wood in the late 1940s as a group of scouts – well, I’m not sure what they’re there for, but a bit of teasing and bullying and some balletic dancing, apparently – turn into a performance of the Mikado.  It’s much, much less clear or appropriate than their HMS Pinafore last year but you forget that pretty soon.

There is barely a nod to Japan in the costumes – khakhi shorts and shirts and you miss all of Gilbert’s social satire.  What you do have is a very funny, very clever version of the piece that manages to get the overwhelming bulk of the spirit of the piece spot on.  As ever, it’s done simply – the baggy shorts turned up for the ‘female’ part of the chorus give them a quite convincing and very funny South Pacific-ish look.  Katisha comes in on a bicycle with a series of straw hats to give her height and a string bag.  There are lots of good sight gags around the tents.

Above all, Sasha Regan’s direction pays attention to the words.  David McKechnie as Ko Ko does his speech to Katisha as intelligently and wittily as I’ve heard it and makes “Tit-Willow” the gently comic number that it is.  The Madrigal is really funny and Alan Richardson’s Yum Yum gets a laugh out “The sun whose rays”.  In Gilbert and Sullivan there’s always a tension between the emphasis you place on Sullivan’s very serious music and on Gilbert’s witty text.  I’ve always felt that the mastery of the operas lies in that tension.  Here Gilbert unquestionably won, with the words clearly under-cutting the seriousness of the music.  Above all, the dialogue was sensitively and thoughtfully put across and you could hear pretty much every word.

Musically, it was decent and you do have to make allowances for men singing falsetto and, often, not quite managing it.  The noises Mr Richardson made reaching for his top notes in the ensembles really were not pleasant and rather points out the limits of an all-male approach to G&S particularly as the operas get more ambitious.  You also have to make allowances for people who are not trained opera singers and who play about with note values (and notes) rather more than we’re used to.  It didn’t worry me hugely in the context of a really witty, lively performance but don’t go expecting the sort of singing you would get from an opera company.

The cast was excellent.  Mr McKechnie makes an excellent Ko Ko – alert, cheap and slight sleazy with a funny updated (but not topical) little list.  Ross Finnie could have been even more Scottish as Pooh Bah and, maybe, was a bit too understated.  James Waud was a super Mikado and I loved the way “My object all sublime” got faster as the it went on (super choreography for the chorus).  Alex Weatherhill made a large Katisha who got both the sympathy and the monstrosity of the woman (though I don’t think she needed to be pumping up her bike during ‘”Hearts do not break”) and, again, the dialogue with Ko Ko after that was outstanding (and, again, some really lovely, understated choreography for “There is beauty in the bellow of the blast”).

Richard Munday made a sensible Nanki Poo and, top notes apart, Mr Richardson was a very good, funny Yum Yum. The ensemble worked incredibly hard and made it all look easy and fun. Richard Baker on the piano did an excellent job.

Don’t go expecting a lavish, traditional Mikado, but I’d strongly recommend this clever, intelligent and very slick performance to anyone who likes the operas, particularly if they prefer Gilbert to Sullivan.

 

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All-male Pinafore

25 Jun

I was a bit sniffy when I saw Sasha Regan’s all-male version of Pirates of Penzance in Brighton last year.  That didn’t stop me going to see her HMS Pinafore when it arrived here this year – I got to the Saturday matinee on 25th June.  It was a huge amount better.

Pinafore is one of my favourites.  There isn’t a weak number and Gilbert’s dialogue is short but absolutely to the point.  It’s still very, very funny and doesn’t begin to outstay its welcome.

Regan’s production has a bit more point to it than last year’s.  It’s as if a group of modern sailors are staging the opera, improvising costumes and getting involved in the piece.  It’s a nice framing device and explains limited props and costumes.

The direction is a whole lot better than Pirates.  The dialogue is done better and the jokes and staging a huge improvement.  There are some lovely jokes – a Chariots of Fire moment for He is an Englishman and a Titanic moment for Josephine.  It helps that Michael Burgen (very funny, very nasty, very good) as Sir Joseph is about a foot shorter than anyone else.  There’s some fine choreography and some good fitness exercises for what is obviously a very well-trained crew.  A nice in-joke is that Captain Corcoran definitely is not in the same league.  There some nice lunacy around the sisters, cousins and aunts and the escape in Act II.

There’s also a serious element.  I don’t think that I’ve seen the Josephine/Rackstraw taken so seriously – making it both more funny and more touching.  It’s helped by a really excellent performance by Tom Senior as Rackstraw – understated, nicely sung and taking the thing seriously.  He’s matched by Ben Irish’s very funny Josephine, which is also sung really well.

Neil Moors makes a rather thick Captain Corcoran, David McKechnie stays the right side of camp and makes an almost touching Buttercup, Richard Russell Edwards has a lovely time camping up Hebe – just right here.  James Waud is rather fine as Dick Deadeye and the ensemble works hard and is very, very easy on the eye.

Certainly not a full house, but it was extremely enthusiastic and I thought that this performance was more fun, more true to the original and had more life than many of more lavish, better resourced productions that I’ve seen.  I recommend it.

All male Pirates

28 May

Another Pirates of Penzance. This time Sasha Regan’s all male production. This has done the rounds of the fringe venues in London and, fresh from an Australian tour, with a number of awards, is on at the Theatre Royal in Brighton for a week. I saw the performance on 27th May with the theatre, at a guess, less than 30% full but with a really enthusiastic audience.

The show was designed for a small fringe theatre. The cast of 18 isn’t of trained singers and, while many are quite experienced in musicals and in similar productions, that’s as far as it goes. Set and costumes were decent but obviously on the cheap. The accompaniment is on a single piano. Was it wise to do it in a theatre the size of Theatre Royal which, let’s face, is about the size for which the piece was written – with its full orchestra, chorus and star singers – and charging the sorts of prices they’d charge for a West End show on tour? I couldn’t help feeling that I might have enjoyed it more if it had been in smaller auditorium. Perhaps also, it was unfair to see it so soon after Mike Leigh’s production at ENO which had a full chorus and orchestra and people with the right voices singing the parts.

Why do G&S with all male casts? Unlike Shakespeare, there’s no point about authenticity and it’s hard to find any sexual politics in the operas that cross-casting like this will illuminate. I suppose there is the practical reason that men can sing falsetto and so it gives you much more scope for doubling roles. The cast created very capable choruses of girls, pirates and police and it would have been difficult to manage all the numbers on this number of a mixed cast. It emphasises the campness and misogyny of it all and it’s funny in a panto-ish sort of way.

The musical accomplishment of the singers is limited. Men singing falsetto can’t call on the sheer power volume that women can. Alan Richardson’s Mabel did a very strong job at the coloratura and sang his/her Act II aria touchingly but without the ease that a decent soprano would. I was conscious of technical effort going on. This applied less to Alex Weatherhill’s Ruth – an easier role of a battle-axe that is half-way (but only half-way) to pantomime dame – who sang very adequately in a lower register and created a convincing figure. Otherwise, this was men having fun camping it up as demure Victorian maidens and it was done amusingly enough.

Musically, we didn’t have a particularly gifted cast. Most were singing in that breathy, Lloyd-Webber-ish style that doesn’t really suit Sullivan’s melodies – phrases are chopped about and you just miss the sound that trained operatic voices can bring. Those glorious double choruses don’t come across. It was given efficient piano accompaniment so there was no need for amplification (thank goodness) but this was a cast, generally, that no more than got away with the music rather than giving much pleasure.

I felt that Sasha Regan’s production didn’t quite trust the text enough. The pilot/pirate confusion is clear enough from the words and their setting without any further mugging about it being needed. The lyrics weren’t always put across as clearly as they might be: Miles Weston didn’t really sing the Major General’s song as if it were a coherent piece of thought (and Andrew Shore’s performance at ENO demonstrated that, in fact, it is). Perhaps the fact that there’s only a piano accompaniment meant that you miss the wit of Sullivan’s music for the policemen, but Mike Leigh’s deadpan marching was far, far funnier than the Ministry of Silly Walks approach taken here for them and the whole point of “With cat like tread” is that it is meant to be very loud indeed – singing it softly takes away one of the best jokes.

What they had was energy and this was a busy, strongly choreographed production, with some nice jokes (I liked the policemen sneaking off rather than fight the pirates, the shenanigans during Sighing softly to the river were very funny), a very competent cast that was pretty easy on the eye and the huge advantage that Pirates is pretty much unsinkable. It’s a pleasant, enthusiastic enough evening and I’ve seen duller traditional performances.  But don’t let the awards kid you into thinking it’s that outstanding, because it isn’t.