Hot Mikado

Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch (to 13 June)

One wonders what Gilbert and Sullivan would have made of David H Bell‘s and Rob Bowman‘s 1985 jazz-inflected version of The Mikado. I suspect that Gilbert at least (as a consummate stage director with a trenchant view of contemporary theatre) would have chuckled. Matt Devitt‘s new production might even have made him roar with laughter.

The Queen’s Theatre’s resident company Cut to the Chase is notable for its instrumental as well as vocal talent. So the ten-strong cast sings, dances and plays a ferocious array of (mainly) brass and percussion instruments with enormous verve while presenting the topsy-turvy story with a constant whoosh of activity.

Vocally the honours go to Sam Kprbacheh as Nanki-Poo and Kim Ismay as Katisha. Ismay’s two solos – “The hour of gladness” and “Alone and yet alive” – prove to be absolute show-stoppers. Her Katisha is a mature woman but not a frumpy freak, and the characterisation benefits the whole show. Korbacheh lets rip for “A wandering Minstrel I” and you can believe in his slightly overgrown student personality happier as a second clarinet in a provincial band than as his father’s heir.

Natasha Moore looks charming as Yum-Yum but is vocally and foot-wise overparted. Stuart Organ has great fun with “My object all sublime” after he enters through the audience in a go-car; the lyric has been neatly updated. That goes also for Ko-Ko’s “I’ve got a little list” with the reference to bankers’ bonuses and MPs’ expenses earning a round of applause. As Ko-Ko Shaun Hennesey gives us a burly wannabe. It’s an amusing portrayal, though not all the words come over clearly until “Titwillow” (with flute obbligato) and the “There’s beauty in the bellow of the blast” duet with Katisha which follows it.

Sullivan’s madrigals for unaccompanied quartets of singers can sometimes be a bit of a drag. “Swing a merry madrigal” here works very well. Rowan Talbot‘s Pooh-Bah is the younger man-on-the-make which Gilbert intended, a foil to Jared Ashe‘s Pish-Tush. Jane Milligan and Georgina Field are Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo respectively and make them individual people, not just Yum-Yum’s also-rans. Both revel in Liz Marsh‘s high-stepping choreography which gentles itself for Yum-Yum’s solo at the beginning of the second act. Steve Pretty plays everyone else.

Mark Walters‘ costumes suggest a world not far removed from that of Runyon and his set offers staircases and walkways linked by the outline suggestion of a Kakiemon tea-bowl. It all cooks up as a sugar whip of sound, music and laughter. But it’s never a mere storm in a tea-cup.

Anne Morley-Priestman