The Watermill Theatre has gained huge critical acclaim from its creative partnership with Strictly Come Dancing judge and theatre director Craig Revel Horwood and it is easy to see why. Not only is he a dab-hand at choreography but he has a sharp eye for a clever idea and a golden touch that most musical theatre directors would die for.

Hot Mikado is Horwood’s fourth production for the Watermill and in a style most attributed to director John Doyle, Horwood has again opted to go down the actor/musician route for this spiced and jazzed up version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s beloved opera The Mikado.

Set in Japan we follow Nanki-Poo who has escaped the clutches of his older bride to be Katisha, in order to follow his heart and marry the girl he loves, Yum-Yum. Yum-Yum is betrothed to the Chief High Executioner Ko-Ko, much to her disdain. What follows is a witty and toe tapping evening of pure musical theatre delight, where of course in true traditional form...love conquers all.

From the moment the first chime is heard in the score to the moment the final gong is hit, the energy of the cast is phenomenal and seeing them play multiple instruments, sing, dance and act at the same time made me feel tired just watching them. 

There really isn’t a weak member of this 15 piece ensemble who play Sarah Travis’ musical arrangements with real panache and flair. Credit must also go to the sound engineer who mixed the show to perfection finding a great balance between the live instruments and the vocals, meaning even the quietest hum of a clarinet could still be heard over the loud roar of the percussion.

Horwood’s direction is slick and never lacks in pace or ideas, cleverly combining modern updates to the text and some self-referential nods towards his bill-paying job as the judge on Strictly Come Dancing, alongside post modern references to films such as Kill Bill. These new additions help to make this revival as accessible to as many people as possible, aided by a wonderfully simple but equally stunning Kabuki style hut set and Manga infused retro style costuming by Diego Pitarch. Richard G Jones has really gone to town with his lighting design which never detracts from the action but encases it with a true theatrical language of its own.

Stand out performances come from Jeffrey Harmer as Ko-Ko, interacting with the audience in a way many stand-up comedians could only dream of, but he really comes into his own when delivering his songs, one favourable highlight being ‘I’ve Got A Little List.’ Karen Mann as Katisha is also equally delightful throughout and her chemistry with Harmer is delightful.

Other notable performances come from Georgina Field (Peep-Bo), Abiona Omonua (Yum-Yum) and Cassie Pearson (Pitti-Sing), with Pearson really revelling the spotlight during her gospel inspired song "He's Gonna Marry Yum Yum", which really does raise the roof.

I could continue praising individuals all night as this production has it all; fantastic performers, a great score, sublime direction, but if you do not believe me,  get a ticket and fast! 

This is quite simply the best production I have seen all year! This Mikado is smoking hot!

-John Roberts