Nanki-Poo, brother of The Mikado, disguises himself as a lowly wandering minstrel to escape from Katisha, an overbearing gold-digger. Arriving in Titipu, he falls in love with the sweet and pretty Yum-Yum, but she's already betrothed to the Lord High Executioner, Ko-Ko. As Ko-Ko hasn't met his beheadings quota, and with the young minstrel suicidal at the thought of Yum-Yum's imminent wedding, Nanki-Poo is persuaded to marry Yum-Yum for a month, after which Ko-Ko will chop his head off. Win-win all round - until Yum-Yum finds out that, as a widow, the law requires her to be buried alive. All is eventually resolved through a combination of manipulation, corruption and compromise to reach the anticipated Gilbert and Sullivan happy ending.
Gilbert set this operetta in a fictional version of Japan so he could take a sly dig at the British institutions and politics of the 1880s. Director Matthew Johnson moves the location from Japan to a contemporary English golf club, with all its eccentricities and rules. Or rather an alternative universe version with extreme penalties for minor infractions. This could have the effect of narrowing the satirical edge to a particular, rather small element of society. But Johnson's clever updating, including topical references to bankers, the X Factor and the horsemeat saga all on Ko-Ko's iPad little list of things that would "surely not be missed", he manages to keep it relevant while retaining most of the original lyrics.
The young cast are excellent, with solid vocals and fabulously clear diction. Once or twice the notoriously tongue-twisting lyrics run away from them, but their massive enthusiasm and verve fill Christopher Hone's beautifully-designed Japanese golf club set. Ed Norwood's Ko-Ko has a wry humour, while Michael Riseley gives Nanki-Poo the air of an innocent caught up in circumstances beyond his control.
As Yum-Yum, Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing, Emily Davies, Eleanor Knight and Michelle Whitney play the Three Little Maids with spark, as though direct from Glee's William McKinley High. Suzanna Kempner's Katisha (an old woman in the original) is here updated as a feisty chav. Stiofan O'Doherty gives The Mikado a dark authority and Andrew Pugsley's Pooh-Ba is a jolly figure as he changes "hats" through his various official roles.
Pulling Focus's effervescent production is great fun and definitely "topsy-turvy".
- Carole Gordon