The Oxford Playhouse is certainly going through a phase of Gilbert and Sullivan productions: early in May we had The Pirates of Penzance, in a couple of weeks The Sorcerer arrives and this week Oxford Operatic Society are presenting their updated version of The Mikado.
Director Edward Blagrove has taken the bold decision to reset this satire of nineteenth century British politics and society in the cut and thrust world of modern multinational business. We get Powerpoint presentations, mobile phones and sharp suits instead of the more traditional kimonos, fans and painted faces.
Any theatrical updating needs to be done carefully – you have to respect the structures and relationships of the original whilst also making sure that the new setting works on its own terms. There are moments in this new production where the two worlds meet seamlessly and others where the tensions are not fully resolved. In many ways, I would have preferred the script to have been rewritten to a greater extent than it was. However I think it is brave move and I applaud their ambition in making the attempt.
There are a number of creditable performances in the large cast. Hannah Veale sings Yum-Yum deliciously – and acts with just the right amount of coy charm. She is ably supported by the other two 'little maids' – Susanne Sheehy and Jennifer Riley Smith. Strongest of the men, Stephen Pascoe uses his rich bass-baritone to good effect as the pompous Pooh-Bah.
The orchestra is well controlled by Chris Payne – he keeps the evening moving along well, with only the occasional slow tempo that feels slightly out of place.
Choreographically, the show is not one of Oxford Operatic's greatest achievements. The chorus sing well but there is a lack of finesse and precision to their movement which rather undermines the idea that they are part of some slick corporation.
Overall this is a show that does not quite deliver fully on what it could have been. There are a number of good ideas which, with further development, could have created a more cohesive whole. However the strengths of Gilbert, Sullivan and a committed cast shine through and the audience reaction is very warm.