Jonathan Miller and ENO’s iconic interpretation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado has returned to the London Coliseum this Christmas, to the delight of G&S fans across the capital, including myself. This decadent production of G&S’s most-performed work takes the story out of the oriental town of Titipu and sets it in a grand English hotel during the 1930s, which gives it the scope for some satirical gibes at characters closer to home. Tonight’s set was suitably splendid, with a monochrome palette and an enormous raked stage, which set off the beautifully dressed hotel staff wonderfully.
The Mikado, written in 1886, is a satirical representation of a ubiquitous oriental seaside resort, Titipu, into which the lowly second trombone player, Nanki-Poo (Robert Murray) arrives one day to find his true love, Yum-Yum (ENO Harewood Artist Mary Bevan). However, their love is not to be fulfilled, as Yum-Yum is betrothed to her guardian, Ko-Ko (Richard Suart), for whom she has no affection whatsoever. Our Nanki-Poo, dressed in a humbug striped jacket and with a wonderfully plummy accent, resolves to kill himself. In the meantime, Ko-Ko, accompanied by his prim waitresses and hilariously camp sailors, has received a message from the Mikado, the emperor of Japan, to ask him why, as High Executioner, he has not done any executing and ordering a public slaughter within the month. With Nanki-Poo in such a suicidal mood, Ko-Ko has no trouble persuading him to be the unlucky victim and as a reward, he will have Yum-Yum as his bride for the month before his death.
This almost seems like the perfect solution (although it is a rather “unfortunate” setback that Nanki-Poo will have to die after a month) – until the trio find out that a widow must be buried alive after her husband’s death. Naturally, Yum-Yum is less than enamoured with this idea. In the midst of this confusion, the daughter-in-law elect of the Mikado, the larger-than-life Katisha (Yvonne Howard), arrives, set on revealing Nanki-Poo’s true identity as the estranged Crown Prince, son of the Mikado himself. To resolve matters, Ko-Ko agrees that Nanki-Poo can elope with Yum-Yum and he can get his all-in-one sidekick, Poo-Bah (Donald Maxwell) to witness Nanki-Poo’s demise. All appears to have been brought to a happy conclusion, when the Mikado himself (Richard Angas) turns up at Titipu, demanding to hear all about the execution and also to see his long-lost son, Nanki-Poo. The truth finally comes out and the only way in which everything is to end happily is if a new beau is found for the demanding Katisha, so Ko-Ko reluctantly obliges.
The Mikado, as any other G&S, is hilariously funny, but also very much of its time. This gloriously extravagant revival added a few modern touches which really brought the production to life; Ko-Ko’s infamous “list” was cleverly updated, poking fun at the personalities of current news – the laity of the Synod receiving quite a bashing on this occasion. This was all rather fun, and certainly invited to view the plot as it would have been understood when it was written – poking fun at popular figures and customs. The acting was fantastic, from all the characters, and the pronounced and often brilliantly over-exaggerated accents were kept up superbly throughout both spoken and sung passages. The pantomime aspect was well balanced with some excellent singing and fantastic choreography and it was, all in all, a wonderfully entertaining evening. The occasional first-night slip-up didn’t detract from the exemplary performance and I thoroughly enjoyed myself!