The simple reason why The Mikado is the most popular of all G&S operas is that it is the funniest – or at least, its humour is most easily appreciated by today’s audiences. This production gets full value from the humour, especially in act 2. It’s not too difficult to extract the comedy from ‘Here’s a how-de-do’ or the scene where Ko-Ko declares his love for Katisha, but I don’t remember laughing much at ‘Brightly dawns’ before.
Most of the laughs, though, are thanks to the performance of Richard Haynes as Ko-Ko. Physically, facially and vocally, he is a natural clown, and he milks the last drop from this gift and from the part. Some actors play Ko-Ko more soberly, looking to develop the character, but I’m not sure that the role has the scope for that and anyway, if you have comedic talents like Richard Haynes’s in your company, why waste them?
The other stand-out performance is Duncan Reid as Nanki-Poo. It asks a lot of a singer to launch into his big song within five minutes of the start of the show and within 30 seconds of coming on stage himself, but Duncan has a strong, virile tenor voice which is made for ‘A wand’ring minstrel I’. He’s a good actor, too, conveying the bewilderment of an innocent caught up in the machinations of Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah. Whoever made him up for the opening night has hopefully already worked out that the eyebrows halfway up the forehead are not a good look.
The evergreen and ever-reliable Sally Ager is a charming Yum-Yum. She acts and sings excellently, and her ‘Were you not to Ko-Ko plighted’ with Nanki-Poo is lovely, but it is her movement that is exceptional; dances by members of the cast accompany the overture (modified rapture) and she dances everyone else off the stage. John Rimell lacks the corpulence to be the usual pompous and absurd Pooh-Bah, so he goes for sinister and scheming instead, generally with success. The many different voices he puts on when advising Ko-Ko from many different points of view are a tour de force.
Julie Gower brings out the pathos of Katisha well, but rather than the unfounded hint in the otherwise terrific finale of act 1 that she has some sort of magic powers (she is accompanied by four masked demons), she should simply be more frightening; again, another look at the make-up might help. Patrick D’Ardenne brings authority and gravitas to the part of Pish-Tush, while Mark Ward’s Mikado is dominating but has an attractive twinkle in his eye.
Along with Yum-Yum, Peep-Bo (Susy Davies) and Pitti-Sing (Catherine Smith) make up a trio of little maids whose singing is outstanding. The ladies’ chorus make a particularly pleasing sound, while the men, outnumbered as usual, at least hold their own. Credit to MD Ieuan Davies, who also conducts a very competent orchestra.
One of the few criticisms of the production is that more use could be made of the chorus, who spend much of the time lined up across the stage, standing still or making fairly simple ‘step forward, step back’ movements. Not until the entry of the Mikado in act 2 are the diagonals fully used and it immediately gives a new dimension to the picture being created. Maybe the director was exhausted after teaching the men the drill with their fans in ‘If you want to know who we are’ – it looks simple but I bet it took hours of rehearsal.
Finally, it was certainly brave, but I don’t know how wise, to do the whole thing without head-mikes. In row E I really appreciated hearing the natural and undistorted voices; I hope someone in row Z who was new to the show would have felt the same.
The Mikado is at the Regent Centre on 28 September at 7.30pm and 29 September at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.