There can’t have been anyone in the audience for the umpteenth revival of Jonathan Miller’s staging of The Mikado on Saturday night who expected the curtain to rise on an idyllic Japanese landscape. Indeed after twenty-six years of dutiful service, I couldn’t help feeling that time needs to be called on this staging. You can have too much of a good thing and many thought the 2011 revival, which celebrated the staging’s silver jubilee, was more likely than not to be its last.
But no, it’s back again. This time we’re celebrating, if that’s quite the word, Richard Suart’s 25th anniversary in the part. To say that he commands the stage would be an understatement, given that he comes perilously close to chewing the scenery on more than one occasion. The exaggerated walks, accents, and over the top demeanour, which seemed more palatable on previous occasions, this time descend into caricature, and quickly become irritating. There were some genuinely hilarious moments in his ‘little list’, but it must be hard trying to find something fresh to do with a role that you’ve been performing for so long.
And there lies the rub with this revival in that it comes across as far less polished, and therefore ultimately less funny than previous revivals have. Act One drags and most of the humour fails to hit the mark. Maybe a couple of extra rehearsals wouldn’t have gone amiss, as the whole thing feels rather tepid, and without razor sharp wit and interplay between the characters, the whole show teeters on the edge of becoming interminable.
David Parry does his best in the pit to keep the forward momentum going, but in the process harries the singers which results in the patter-singing becoming garbled. Still, there are some individual performances to cherish including Mary Bevan as a pert Yum-Yum, Robert Murray as a somewhat hapless Nanki-Poo and Donald Maxwell’s dour Pooh-Bah. Richard Angas’ larger than life Mikado still manages to impress vocally despite the passing of time, and David Stout adds stalwart support as Pish-Tush.
There’s one performance that elevates this revival from the workaday to the sublime, and that’s Yvonne Howard’s perfectly-poised assumption of the role of Katisha. Although more soprano than mezzo she has the role’s low-lying notes well within her grasp, and commands attention whenever she’s on the stage. She manages to make the character sympathetic, funny and grotesque all at the same time, which is no mean feat and she sings gloriously.
It’s only fair to add that the capacity audience guffawed, chatted and merrily unwrapped Quality Street throughout, and seemed to be having a whale of a time which can only be good for the box office.