HAVING enjoyed Sasha Regan’s all-male productions of The Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore, I had been looking forward to the premiere of this – her third G and S – since the start of the Easter hols.
The show, set in 1950’s England, when life was simple and the staple diet was Enid Blyton, we were invited to join the company on their school camping trip to the far away land of Titipu – just the ticket for a jolly night out I thought. How right I was and how lucky I was to have been there. The production was as fine and as joyous a piece of ensemble theatre as one is likely to find anywhere; a show that had the audience completely captivated from the moment the curtain went up to reveal a dozen or so schoolboys engaged in gymnastics, a bit of cricket and all sorts of boyish pranks. We knew straight away that we were going to be in for a real treat.
Inspired by her own childhood performing experiences in a single sex school, Sasha Regan has, once again, injected new life into an old classic. The fact that it adapted so extraordinarily well to her inimitable treatment is testament not only to the quality of her company, but also to the quality and relevance of the original Savoy opera – written well over one hundred years ago now.
The ensemble, with its mix of both old and new faces, was headed by David McKechnie as a roguish Ko-Ko – not only a natural comedian, very much in the Leonard Rossiter mould, but a fine singer and actor too. His scene when he proposes to Katisha, was one of the undoubted highlights of the show, full of Gilbertian humour of course, but poignant as well. I have seen other Mikados when this particular scene, coming as it does towards the end of the show, can drag a bit (or indeed a lot), but in this production, we were literally hanging onto his every word. Alex Weatherhill as Katisha, his other half, was similarly splendid. A master (mistress?) of comic timing, and like McKechnie, a veteran of Regan’s all-male company, the audience loved her from the moment she cycled on. Her broken-hearted rendition of Alone, and Yet Alive, complete with bicycle pump, was without doubt one of the funniest things I have seen and heard this year.
As the young lovers, Richard Munday as Nanki-Poo and Alan Richardson, another Regan veteran, as Yum-Yum were absolute joys. Fine actors and singers the both of them, Richardson’s incredible top notes were quite thrilling. I loved their Act I duet – so much humour (Yum-Yum rolling up the sleeve of her cardigan to enable yet more kissing for example) but so very touching at the same time. Yum-Yum’s The Sun Whose Rays, too, was utterly delightful – you could have heard the metaphorical pin drop.
Among the other principal roles, I very much enjoyed Benjamin Vivian-Jones’ Pish-Tush and James Waud, suitably imposing in appearance, both in terms of his costume and actual stature, gave a charismatic performance as the Mikado himself. However, as I said at the outset, this was essentially ensemble theatre, and the quality of the music, under the direction of Richard Baker, and the strength of the characterisation were quite exceptional. The “girls” mannerisms in particular were beautifully nuanced, never outlandishly camp but with fine attention given to expressions and with only slightly exaggerated gestures, they exuded girlish glee from start to finish.
Clarity of diction, both in singing and in the dialogue, was never an issue, and the dancing was both wonderfully animated and perfectly executed – the deference shown to Ko-Ko on his arrival as the Lord High Executioner for example was absolutely charming while the routine to the Mikado’s Song in Act II was a real tour de force. In terms of design, too, the simple costumes, with everyone dressed in boy scout style shorts, (the “girls” simply rolled them up a bit) were also an unqualified success, and the setting, an idyllic woodland glade and its three tents provided marvellous opportunities for comic business, places to hide, surprise entrances, exits and the like.
If I had to identify the one particular feature of the production that impressed me the most though, it would undoubtedly be the constantly inventive stage business. The Japanese marionettes in the opening chorus were so very cleverly done, while the “Nancy on his knees” in Nanki-Poo’s minstrel song that followed had me chuckling for ages afterwards. The synchronising of Three Little Maids From School with a game of badminton was spot-on, the girls in the beauty-parlour were absolutely hilarious, and as for the washing on the line that constantly thwarted Katisha, well this was the substance of many of the conversations I overheard whilst queueing at the bar during the interval!
Although last night’s show remained pretty faithful to the original – only Ko-Ko’s “little list”, wittily written on toilet paper (Izal maybe) was significantly different – it was imbued with new life and a sparkling sense of delight. Whilst the tearful Madrigal in Act II was probably my favourite ensemble number, joy really was reigning everywhere around (to slightly misquote the words of the final chorus) by the time we left the theatre.
With several relatively local ports of call in the south and west, Sasha Regan’s all-male Mikado is on tour until the end of July and should definitely not be missed.