Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas have been a staple of the theatre repertoire – amateur and professional – since they were first performed at the end of the nineteenth century. Some would say that Sullivan could have achieved much more than these silly theatre comedies in his career, but I would argue that they are some of the best evening’s entertainment to be had by any audience.
The Charing Cross Theatre, a relatively small but charming West End theatre, has room enough only for two grand pianos rather than an orchestra for its production of The Mikado. What we lose in the original orchestral colour and musical light and shade, we gain in the energetic and well-balanced playing of piano duo Dean Austin (MD) and Noam Galperin. Updated, though only slightly, to the early twentieth century, Thom Southerland’s production is set in a Japanese sweatshop and shop floor. Its traditional style, with kimono-clad Japanese schoolgirls and gentrified English aristocrats (Pooh-Bah and Pish-Tush), is tongue-in-cheek and works very well.
Southerland’s approach, as evident by the casting, is very much musical theatre rather than from operatic roots. This is perhaps reflected the most in Matthew Crowe, who is a little too vocally weak for this lead tenor role of Nanki-Poo; he fails in matching the tour-de-force that is Leigh Coggins as Yum-Yum opposite him, with her sweet piercing voice. His characterisation however is ever so camp and charming, injecting a lot of fun into the role. Pish-Tush is deftly portrayed by Jacob Chapman and sung with a rich bright voice. In addition, it is great to see the expertise and operatic experience of Rebecca Caine as Katisha adding to this cast.
I must applaud the hard work and quick feet of the ensemble, who are fabulous. The show runs at a pace and is exciting from start to finish, with great visuals and dance numbers. The lighting and, in particular, the choreography is splendid – exactly what is needed for this toe-tapping piece. Jazz hands and all, this is rip-roaringly good fun; the material still works so well after all these years, especially in the hands of this talented cast and creative team. This production of The Mikado is both a fantastic Christmas show as well as a great G & S production in its own right. The atmosphere is such that, as an audience member, you are compelled to want to join in, put on your dancing shoes, tread the boards and sing an aria or two!
The Mikado plays at the Charing Cross Theatre until 3 January. For more information and tickets, see the Charing Cross Theatre website.