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Turbo-Charged Falsetto Fun! The Mikado

25 May 2017

The Mikado

by W.S. Gilbert and A. Sullivan

Sasha Regan’s All-Male The Mikado

Regan De Wynter Productions at Richmond Theatre until 27th May

Review by Mark Aspen

Gilbert and Sullivan is fun! And The Mikado is probably G&S’s most fun piece.  As a well-seasoned reviewer, I have seen many manifestations of it: local light operatic societies’ versions, Jonathan Miller’s acknowledged classic, even The Hot Mikado, but with Sasha Regan’s All-Male The Mikado the fun is turbo-charged.

Director Sasha Regan’s inspiration for all-male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan has its spark in her own experiences of single-sex school cross-cast productions, and the awkward humour that can emerge.  Her The Mikado, is set in the fifties, as a typical all-boys’ boarding school take a camping trip to the exotic land of Titipu … and immediately goes native.  In spite of the obvious play on the idea of “camping”, this is not a Julian and Sandy Polari knockabout, but rather the gentle half-innocence of schoolboys squirming at the idea of dressing up as … girls!!  In fact, the only real camp elements were three tents and a campfire, continuously smouldering downstage (the fire, not the tents – although there was a lot of smouldering going on in these).

Ryan Dawson Laight’s economic design strips off theatrical embellishments: the highly mobile tents are almost the only set, and there is not a single kimono in sight.   However, these are set against Tim Deiling’s atmospherically lit cyc-cloth, a luminescent forest of leggy trees.

This economy of approach allows the characters to come to the fore, but relies heavily on the performers.  And my, how this works: for here is a truly multi-talented cast.  These boys can act, they can sing and they can dance.

A strong dance sequence opens the show, and Holly Hughes’ choreography is relevant and lyrical, nicely setting the scene.

 

The self-deprecating style, which adds to the humour, is obvious right from the overture, delivered on a solitary keyboard by tireless Musical Director Richard Baker.  Maybe my ear was falling in with the style of the production, but was the piano sound tuned to a slightly high pitch?  If so, it certainly foreshadowed the falsetto voices of the “female” characters.  How can singers take their so voices high in their register for a whole evening?   There is no change of key and they stay true to the characters.  It is literally breath-taking.

David Mckechnie - Ko-Ko qnd Richard Munday - Nanki-Poo

But what about the “chap” chaps?  Our wandering minstrel, the hapless Nanki-Poo, is played straight down the middle by Richard Munday, a strong resonant tenor, as a somewhat bemused suitor, wandering in on all these bizarre goings-on.   However, the Lord High Everything Else, Pooh-Bah, vain, ambitious and hyper-mercenary, is given full-rein by the rich-voiced baritone Ross Finnie.  (There was something about Finnie that reminded me of Alex Salmond, but it may just have been the Sottish accent and tatty tartan waistcoat.)   Then, of course, the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko (a role created by W.S. Gilbert for D’Oyle Carte’s star, George Grossmith), here played by the lithe-limbed David McKechnie as an omnipresent éminence grise, who nevertheless has to wrestle with the difficult notion that  Lord High Executioners cannot cut off another person’s head, until they have cut off their own.  Ko-Ko also has to wrestle with tongue-twisting patter songs, including the “Little List”.  I was waiting for the conventional topical additions to those about whom he notes “they’d none of ’em be missed!”, but even in the midst of a general election campaign, there was alas none of the “none”.  No doubt the producers are playing very safe here.

The Mikado - David Mckechnie (Ko-Ko), courtesy of Stewart McPherson (2)

The “chaps” form a very strong contingent within a very strong ensemble company, but (and this is probably inevitable in a cross-cast production) it is the “girls” who steal the show.  The arrival of the “Three Little Maids” is always awaited with anticipation, but here the more so with our “girls”, Pitti-Sing (Jamie Jukes) and Peep-Bo (Richard Russell Edwards), played subtlety enough with just a hint of femininity (and shorts slightly rolled up) and their sister, Yum-Yum, the love interest of the show.  Alan Richardson is wonderful in this role, balancing the characterisation between sympathy and humour, without straying into caricature.  Perhaps typifying his approach is Yum-Yum’s solo “The sun, whose rays are all ablaze”, delivered with beauty without losing the irony.  All three “little maids” are remarkable in maintaining flawless falsetto, seemingly effortlessly, whilst preserving the integrity of their characters.

Alan Richardson - Yum-Yum_Richard Russell Edwards - Peep-Bo_James Jukes - Pitti-Sing_Ben Vivian-Jones - Pish-Tush_Richard Munday - Nanki-Poo_

 

For a grand entrance, that of Katisha must be hard to beat: in tweeds, on a “sit-up-and-beg” bicycle, and wearing three (!) hats, one top of another, with one upside-down.  This entrance though belies the impact of Alex Weatherhill’s outstanding portrayal of Katisha, which brings out the pathos and poignancy of the part.  The singing of solos pieces, such as “The hour of gladness is dead and gone” and “Alone, and yet alive” are poetic.  Nevertheless, the humour is never lost, the duet with Ko-Ko, the well-known “Tit Willow” laced a delicate lyricism through the broad fabric of fun.

David Mckechnie - Ko-Ko and Alex Weatherhill - Katisha

The rather complicated plot of comical contradictions, overlaid by Gilbert’s still applicable satirical social comment, comes to an end with the deus ex machina, the Mikado himself.  Bass, James Waud strides into this part with great stage presence as the pragmatic despot, summoning up as much benevolence as one can from one who looks forward to boiling miscreants in oil.

Sasha Regan, was awarded the Special Achievement Award at the “Offies” earlier this year for her contribution to musical theatre, her all-male G&S shows, conceived at her home base at the Union Theatre.   Of the current tour of The Mikado, she says it “is going to be a great year – it’s beyond exciting”.

Regan pitches The Mikado just right: never plays for laughs where they would be misplaced, but lets the mirth rip where it is right; never parodies where lyricism is best; but never slams on the brakes when the turbo-charger kicks in the fun.   Titipu will never be the same again.

Mark Aspen

May 2017

Photographs Courtesy of Stewart McPherson.

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From → musicals, Reviews

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