We've become accustomed to the sight of Japanese English supporters after the Beatles-like reception our boys received during the 2002 World Cup. As a return gesture, D'Oyly Carte brings us a set of very English Japanese folk in Gilbert and Sullivan's classic musical comedy The Mikado, which is laced with some topically irresistible football references. (Members of the company are red-carded for misbehaviour and Ko-Ko's famous "They'll None of Them Be Missed" solo lists David Seaman amongst his inventory of sorry fellows to be executed.)

In true G&S fashion, this D'Oyly Carte offering is a high laughs, tongue-in-cheek, panto-style production. Adding to the slapstick is comedian Jasper Carrott, flexing his operatic muscles as Ko-Ko the executioner. Though his vocal skills lack the proficiency or oomph displayed by the rest of the company, Carrott adds some much needed character to what feels like a slightly less than enthusiastic revival of G&S's most famous piece.

Set in Titipu, The Mikado tells the tale of wandering minstrel Nanki-Poo (Joseph Shovelton) who is seeking out Yum-Yum, the love of his life. Now the ward of the unscrupulous Ko-Ko, Yum-Yum is eventually presented to Nanki-Poo in a deal which demands the lovelorn minstrel's head ends up on the executioner's block - that is, until Nanki-Poo is revealed as the missing son of the mighty Mikado (Graham Stone), setting in motion a series of comic twists that speed us towards an inevitable happy ending.

Jacqueline Varsey plays Yum-Yum (a role shared with Charlotte Page) with an awfully English sentimentality and a voice that could slice butter. Vocally, she shines in a strong company, and her comic timing is perfect as she turns on the flirtatious charm with Nanki-Poo (and the prospect of death).

There are some nice comic touches in Tim Goodchild's design and Ian Judge's direction, too. The male company bounces about the stage like a gang of Max Wall impersonators, with rubber baldheads as the gentlemen of Japan. The heads-on-sticks in the executioner's yard - including the decapitated Minister of Procreation and the Minister of Musical Theatre - also join in the singing.

To borrow another footballing analogy, however, what this production lacks is a touch of Brazilian exuberance. An English sense of humour and a strong vocal crowd are good credentials, but as Beckham et al will testify, sometimes that just isn't enough.

- Julie Goodhand


Note: The following review dates from September 2000 and an earlier run of this production.

The Mikado at the Savoy Theatre

With a successful HMS Pinafore already in the bag this year, and Mike Leigh's Topsy Turvy on video release, it was only a matter of time before the D'Oyly Carte returned to the Savoy with another Gilbert and Sullivan extravaganza.

This time it's the turn of The Mikado , perhaps the most popular of the duo's works , and now certain to receive a popularity boost thanks to Ian Judge's pleasing production. What's nice about this staging is that it manages to retain most of the traditional elements of a G&S operetta, while providing some entertainingly modern touches.

As with Pinafore, The Mikado is about a triangular love story, although the setting is exotic Titipu in Japan. It concerns a young minstrel Nanki-Poo who returns to marry his love Yum-Yum, but discovers she is already betrothed to the local executioner, Ko-Ko (Richard Suart).

Despite the oriental names and location, The Mikado is really about as Japanese as a cucumber sandwich. Arthur Sullivan's dramatic score wouldn't sound out of place at the Last Night of the Proms, and W.S.Gilbert's witty libretto is English through and through, being a thinly veiled satire on Victorian society and politics.

Even if you're a stranger to The Mikado, you'll certainly recognise a number of its songs, which are now popular in their own right, such as 'Tit-willow' and 'Three Little Maids From School are We'. For my money, the best number of the evening is Ko-Ko's 'They'll None of Them be Missed'. Especially now some smart person has interpolated sharp new lyrics that lampoon modern-day nuisances like 'Micro Skate' users, genetic scientists, and the folks who sit in petrol queues.

Tim Goodchild's striking sets are a nod to the work of Hokusai, but have touches of Terry Gilliam about them thanks to some singing decapitated heads. Goodchild's costumes are equally striking, fusing oriental and occidental fashions so that the noblemen are dressed as Victorian schoolmasters yet have Japanese top-knots.

The performances which stand out are Jacqueline Varsey's petite, mischievous-looking Yum-Yum and Deborah Hawksey's splendid harridan, Katisha. This pair of sopranos also have the strongest voices in the cast, although tenor Colin Lee comes a close third with his mellifluous Nanki-Poo.

However, there are occasional moments when it feels like Judge's production isn't full of eastern promise. Royce Mills's Pooh-Bah, and Maria Jones's willowy Pitti-Sing lack the vocal punch to make their numbers memorable, the show's ending is slightly flat, and the choreography is a little unimaginative.

But this is just nitpicking really. The Mikado is an enjoyable evening out and a good chance to acquaint yourself with some quality Gilbert and Sullivan.

Richard Forrest