The Mikado (Charing Cross Theatre)
The Roaring Twenties bring a jaunty air to this cheerful new production of Gilbert and Sullivan's best-loved work
There's more than a hint of the Victorian Penny Dreadful about The Mikado, dealing as it does with the darkest of subjects: execution, slow torture and suicide, with forced marriage and widow-killing thrown in for good measure.
But of course, in Gilbert and Sullivan's most enduring comic opera, The Mikado is dressed up in such good tunes, such dazzling libretto and such sheer bounce, that the songs from 1885 can be adapted to fit each age's own fools and villains, satirising British society and politics behind a flurry of fans and twirling parasols.
Ko-Ko, the diffident executioner who's never even swatted a bluebottle, is deftly played by Hugh Osborne, who's light on his feet and knows how to deliver a song: his "I've Got A Little List" features a modern-day collection – none of whom would be missed – including Messrs ‘Plebgate' Mitchell and taxi-ranter Mellor, alongside pesky PPI callers and wrist-length tattoos. There's also a delicate, unrushed tenderness to his "On a Tree by a River…".
The show, directed by Thom Southerland, is given a wholesale spring in its step by Joey McKneely's fabulous choreography, from the jazz-hands ensemble pieces to the slick tap of Jacob Chapman's smooth operator Pish-Tush. And Phil Lindley's 1920s set and Jonathan Lipman's flapper-age costumes add to the jaunty air.
Conductor Dean Austin plays the entire score with Noam Galperin on two baby grand pianos, a decision which allows plenty of verve from the musicians, as well as keeping them at the heart of the action, but a slightly fuller sound – maybe even Nanki-Poo's second trombone – would have been appreciated at times.
Sparkling-eyed Leigh Coggins' soprano soars above the ensemble as Yum Yum, rather outsinging Matthew Crowe's gentlemanly Nanki-Poo. He's pursued remorselessly by Katisha – a Glenn Close-style bunny boiler if ever there was one – whose tragi-comic adoration is given full measure by the stately Rebecca Caine. Her duet with Ko-Ko, "There is Beauty in the Bellow of the Blast", brings us all hope of finding love in the least promising circumstances.
Gilbert and Sullivan evidently had terrible trouble writing The Mikado, following as it did from a flop, Princess Ida. But the two men came up with a hit that's still going strong nearly 130 years on.
With a lordly Mikado in Mark Heenehan, a pompous and self-serving Pooh-Bah from Steve Watts, and some great ensemble singing from the cast (including the "Three Little Maids"), this good-humoured production might not prove the definitive Mikado, but it certainly entertains.