Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Mikado - review

Written by: Chris O'Shaughnessy (@ChrisSE20)

Tabard Theatre, London

For the first ten minutes this version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta The Mikado, here set in the trendy The Royal Japan Golf Club and Spa (a green, pink and black Japonaiserie conservatory by Christopher Hone) - an axe among the golf clubs displayed on the wall - comes across as a fairly pedestrian, small-scale, bargain-basement, youthful rendering of this perennial classic. But with Ed Norwood’s entry into the mix as Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, the production shifts, gloriously, into an entirely different register - effervescent, fun-filled - and stays that way until the finale.

Norwood offers a hilariously camp, effete, smiling Executioner and galvanises the cast into a conspiratorial sense of mischief and misrule from then on. His ‘little list’ song (of all those he would execute and would not miss) is as amusing and outrageous as I have heard, being delivered almost intimately in this 96-seat theatre, including on it, as read from an iPad: Simon Cowell, purveyors of horse-meat lasagne, and a variety of ecological fanatics.

Nanki-Poo (Michael Riseley), the son of the Mikado, has fled the court after being promised in marriage to the horrible Katisha (Susanna Kempner, an Eastenders vision in market-stall tat and severely dropped consonants). Disguised as a wandering minstrel, he has fallen in love with Yum-Yum (Emily Davies), a ward of Ko-Ko. Realising that Ko-Ko is about to be beheaded for flirting he has returned to Titipu only to find that Ko-Ko has in fact been reprieved and is now the Lord High Executioner. All convolutions of the ridiculous plot, and there are many, stem from this basic situation. The golf club setting is feasible given that the operetta is as much about English mores, behaviour and prejudices as those of Japan - although some of the more vicious punishments described by the Mikado (Stiofan O’Doherty, like something out of a modern Japanese horror flick) have a disturbing contemporary international resonance.

The piece is very well sung and highlights of the show include the delightful Three Little Maids from School, here performed by a bunch of three disenchanted mobile phone-brandishing teenagers; Braid the Golden Hair, with an original take on hair-braiding which would make Vidal Sassoon turn in his grave;  the lovely The Sun whose Rays are All Ablaze, poignantly sung by Emily Davies; a manic Here’s a How- de- Do; a rueful, reflective The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring; and the mock pathos of On a Tree by a River, sung with just the right degree of knowingness by Susanna Kempner and Ed Norwood.

The choreography at times seems dizzying on this small stage but no one collides with anyone else, except perhaps with the wall on one occasion, and Matthew Johnson keeps the whole concoction vibrant, inventive and engaging. The excellent four-piece band plays discreetly aloft in a kind of minstrel’s gallery (keyboard and musical director Jerome van den Berghe with musicians Rachel Parry-Ridout, Ruth Wybrow and Andrew Willshire). Lighting by Steve Lowe is subtle and transformative.
In all, the show coheres well as a (gender-bending) ensemble piece led by star-in-the-making Norwood and is one of the most entertaining Mikado’s London has yet seen.

This production runs until 17 March 2013. 
For more information: http://www.tabardtheatre.co.uk

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