If you asked the audience in Theatre Royal to put up their hands if they had been involved in any way with a Gilbert and Sullivan production, I would have expected a forest of arms of people of a certain age, as G&S operas were popular choices as school productions until newer shows like Les Misérables came along. Putting just enough modern spin on these period pieces without damaging the original is the challenge facing any director, to introduce a new audience and remind those of us who remember our own efforts fondly, or indeed otherwise, that there is some lovely music and still much fun to be had. Following an enjoyable Pirates of Penzance two years ago, Scottish Opera has again joined forces with D’Oyly Carte and welcomed back Martin Lloyd-Evans to direct Gilbert and Sullivan’s popular Mikado as a touch of lightness to round off their successful season.

Stephen Richardson (The Mikado) © James Glossop
Stephen Richardson (The Mikado)
© James Glossop

This production, with gorgeous designs by Dick Bird, took us back to the Victorian music hall with brass footlights, outrageously over the top costumes, bright lanterns and even a magic show during the overture, like a 19th-century variety theatre holding an oriental night. Many outfits were an ingenious blend of Victorian and Japanese, with naughty black and white stripy bloomers under colourful flowing kimonos for the ladies and smart suits under yukata robes for the men, who also wore bowler hats with a black scroll hanging above, or printed red and white Japanese headbands for the unfortunate in the chorus of singing heads on platters at the start of the opera. With Mark Jonathan’s colourful lighting, it all looked fabulous.

While one would not expect huge operatic voices to be cast in this production, many of the voices were on the light side. The Mikado’s son, Nanki-Poo arrives in Titipu disguised famously as a second trombone player, and here Nicholas Sharratt played the innocent fool nicely in his one man band outfit, his light ‘wandering minstrel’ tenor perfectly suiting the role. Ben McAteer was a wonderfully camp Pish-Tush using semaphore to reveal his inner desires in “Our great Mikado, virtuous man”.

Rebecca Bottone (Yum-Yum) and Nicholas Sharratt (Nanki-Poo) © James Glossop
Rebecca Bottone (Yum-Yum) and Nicholas Sharratt (Nanki-Poo)
© James Glossop

Rebecca Bottone’s vocally bright Yum-Yum was outsung by Sioned Gwen Davies’ warm mezzo as Pitti-Sing although the Three Maids, with Emma Kerr as Peep-Bo, blended well together. Veteran Ko-Ko Richard Suart was a fountain of amusement, his “Little List” mischievously reflecting the recent Scottish Election (Holyrood would indeed be an empty place) as well as tax dodgers and a certain car manufacturer who fixes diesel emissions, although I was less sure about his cockney accent when he spoke. Andrew Shore was a dependably sung Pooh-Bah, although rather more grumpy than general fixer with a bribe or two in his pocket might be.

Stephen Richardson, making his grand entry with Katisha from a bunting strewn battleship, was impressive as the Mikado all top-knot and full colourful military costume with daft winged hat and scary make-up. He had a pleasing authoritative voice, yet I was longing for much more relish and grit in his “Punishment Fit the Crime” song: the amateur tenor and railway carriage window scribbler all got off much too lightly. Rebecca de Pont Davies made the most of the monster of her character, dressed in a black witchy frock with wild hair and in strong voice.

Scottish Opera Chorus © James Glossop
Scottish Opera Chorus
© James Glossop
There was lots of going on in this busy production with some lively pranks and complicated choreography for the chorus. The big pieces sounded and looked splendid, particularly the ladies with twirling parasols in pastel in Act I, but at several points singers drifted apart from the orchestra, seriously so at the end. The Mikado has more than its fair share of memorable tunes, but the orchestra under Derek Clarke needed more sparkle. While the Glasgow audience certainly enjoyed this production, it was rather on the raw side, but it is a long touring run, and things will come together and the tomfoolery and fun will surely grow as confidence builds.