“I am an acquired taste – only the educated palate can appreciate me,” Katisha explains to Ko-Ko towards the end of The Mikado, just after the Lord High Executioner has declared his love (to get himself out of a pickle). Gilbert and Sullivan operettas must be an acquired taste too. Plenty at The Coliseum did appreciate this 14th revival of Jonathan Miller’s celebrated 1986 staging. They chortled and guffawed in all the right places – sometimes even a fraction of a second before – but as a work, it did little to tickle this particular palate.

Robert Lloyd (The Mikado) © ENO | Tristram Kenton
Robert Lloyd (The Mikado)
© ENO | Tristram Kenton

Which is not to say that the production wasn’t well revived. Miller eschews the oriental side of the tale, seeing The Mikado as a play on daft British eccentricity. The only hint of Japan is a distant backdrop of Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa. Stefanos Lazaridis’ lavish set is a 1930s hotel palm court interior, all cream and white lacquer, steeply raked at the rear, with monochrome costumes. A white double bass hangs on the wall, near an enormous gramophone horn. An oversized martini cocktail glass perches on an ivory piano. It all looks tremendously stylish.

Toffs, schoolgirls, tap-dancing chambermaids and bell boys – everyone threw themselves into the action with a gusto that bordered on the frenetic. Cut-glass accents prevailed and you could sense a cast working very, very hard. The crux of the plot – the foiling of an arranged marriage between Ko-Ko and his schoolgirl ward, Yum-Yum – is played as out-and-out farce. I found it more frustrating than funny, possibly because everybody else seemed to know the production well, anticipating the gags, roaring with laughter. It felt like being excluded from a particular ‘in-joke’.

Richard Suart (Koko) has a "little list" © ENO | Tristram Kenton
Richard Suart (Koko) has a "little list"
© ENO | Tristram Kenton

Holding the cast together was Richard Suart’s well-practised Ko-Ko, full of quickfire patter and seedy innuendo. The Lord High Executioner’s “little list” of potential victims for beheading, traditionally updated on each revival, included Jeremy Clarkson, Donald Trump, Playboy and selfie-sticks as targets, along with David Cameron’s alleged encounter with… “Diana Rigg”. Nudge, nudge. Slightly more subtle in the humour department, we had Graeme Danby’s Pooh-Bah (Lord High Everything Else), while George Humphreys was an amiable Pish-Tush. Yvonne Howard’s Katisha was suitably indomitable, dark-toned and relishing the comedy. The Mikado himself – a walk-on (or waddle-on) role in Act II – found bass Robert Lloyd donning the fat suit with great panache and crystal clear diction.

Mary Bevan (Yum-Yum) and Anthony Gregory (Nanki-Poo) © ENO | Tristram Kenton
Mary Bevan (Yum-Yum) and Anthony Gregory (Nanki-Poo)
© ENO | Tristram Kenton

The most delightful casting came with the central couple. Anthony Gregory’s wide-eyed, kiss-curled Nanki-Poo (son of The Mikado, but masquerading as second trombone in Titipu’s town band) was light of tone and immensely endearing. His “A wand'ring minstrel I” was an early highlight of the evening. Mary Bevan charmed as saucy schoolgirl Yum-Yum, object of Nanki-Poo’s desire. Her pert delivery of recitative was matched by a delicious vocal line in her aria “The sun, whose rays are all ablaze”. Their mock-romantic duet, contemplating flirting even though flirting is strictly forbidden, even raised a smile to these lips.

Fergus Macleod, the youngest conductor to lead ENO’s orchestra since Charles Mackerras, unbottled effervescence in the pit after a sluggish start, with a few moments of pit/stage lack of co-ordination that will surely be ironed out in this revival’s lengthy run, which jogs on until February. If spirited G&S is more your taste than mine, you’ll have a ball.