|The Mikado of Japan||Ashley Thorburn|
|Lighting Designer||Guy Dickens|
The history books tell us that it was a huge Japanese sword suddenly dislodging itself from the wall of Gilbert’s study which gave him the idea for The Mikado. The popularity of the subject was assured, for London in 1885 was fascinated by all things Japanese - a Japanese exhibition was drawing huge crowds to Knightsbridge, Japanese artefacts, vases and jars were everywhere and most important, Liberty in Regent Street had imported fabulous Japanese fabrics which had made a huge impact on the fashion world. Liberty were subsequently given the contract to provide the costumes for the first production (although some were genuine antiques - Katisha’s costume was over two hundred years old). The wit and sparkle of The Mikado’s book and score rightly justify its position as the greatest of the Savoy operas, but the impact of the riot of colour which suddenly exploded on the stage of the Savoy Theatre was undoubtedly part of its immediate success. Many a review wrote of the “truly blinding splendour of the dresses”. So important were they to the show that an embargo was put on the fabric to prevent pirate productions and when one American company tried to mount a production and came all the way to London to buy the costumes, Liberty refused to do business with them and in desperation they went to Paris only to find that D’Oyly Carte had already sent an agent there to buy up every Japanese costume he could lay his hands on. He was right to be so protective as The Mikado went on to become for almost seventy years the world’s most valuable theatrical property.
It was at the request of many of the theatres which Opera della Luna visits annually, that we decided to follow The Parson’s Pirates and The Ghosts of Ruddigore with The Mikado - and the immediate question of course was how to adapt it to our resources and size. A traditional ‘kimono’ production was out of the question as it would merely appear a poor relation to a full-scale D’Oyly Carte production. The problem was what to do instead. A visit to the Versace exhibition in New York over Christmas proved an unexpected inspiration, for there before our eyes were dresses of truly blinding splendour giving us surely something of the same impact and surprise that the original Liberty fabrics had had for the 1885 audience. Remembering that Ko-Ko, before being appointed Lord High Executioner was a tailor, the germ of an idea began . . .
Our brief however was not to copy Versace, Lacroix or Gaultier - but to infuse the show with something of the spirit of their creativity: a homage to those who are not afraid to challenge tradition, or wear old clothes in a new way.
"Mad, silly and downright hilarious", says Geoff Hodge referring to Opera Della Luna's latest production at the Lowry.
Mad, silly and downright hilarious, but then again, would you expect anything less from a Gilbert and Sullivan opera? Especially when that opera is The Mikado.
It's hard to think that this opera is almost 130 years old and hasn't dated. It's been brought up to date, I won't deny, but it stays true to the original and loses nothing in the process.
The story is that Nanki-Poo, son of The Mikado has disguised himself as a wandering minstrel and is seeking his prior lover, Yum-Yum, who he previously could not marry as she was betrothed to the tailor Ko-Ko.
On learning that Ko-Ko was to be executed for flirting (the only crime which carries this punishment), he returns for his love. All is thwarted when Ko-Ko is unexpectedly given the role of lord high executioner and refuses to take his own life. As if Nanki-Poo's situation wasn't bad enough, his own fiancť Katisha, whom he fled the palace to escape, has managed to track him down.
Both the cast and the production are small, but the performance certainly loses nothing for it; indeed it all adds to the charm. It doesn't take long before you are transported along to Japan, tapping away in your seat, humming the tunes and desperately trying to stop the tune of "Three Little Maids from School" from going round your head.
Opera Della Luna have made the Mikado accessible, bonkers and laugh-out-loud Gilbert and Sullivan at its best.
Geoff Hodge, Whats on Stage
I must say upfront that Opera della Luna is one of my favourite theatre companies, for the sheer energy, fun and joy its productions bring to the stage.
So, the show last night could have gone one of two ways, either I’d be biased and love it anyway, or I’d have high expectations that could be thwarted. As it happened it was a damp, cold evening and after a let-down earlier in the day I felt in need of some cheer. Suffice to say that if you are looking for a show with a lift you don’t need to look much further than this one.
The Mikado is one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s finest comedy operas, but although many of the songs are familiar it is difficult to keep such a well-known and well-trodden piece fresh. Here the company takes the original satire and gives it a modern-day twist with references to mobile phones, reality TV, Twitter and Botox. There is nothing too outrageous in any of this, but the excellent comic timing of Richard Gauntlett as the bumbling Ko-Ko keeps it fast-paced and lively.
The real innovation is in the costumes and design. Inspired by the Versace exhibition in New York they are gaudy, vibrant and demand attention – particularly Katisha’s Japanese temple frock which sends blinding swirls of light around the auditorium with her every move. However, they also have more than a hint of the play-school about them – all Opal Fruit colours in a variety of stripes, checks, patterns and spots. Japan here is not so much exotic as a surreal wonderland, with a couple of puppets thrown into the playful mix.
Tim Walton is a charming Nanki-Poo and Victoria Joyce, a rather statuesque and likable, Yum-Yum, but it is a shame to single out anyone because this is a real company effort. All the cast provide strong voices and enormous amounts of energy which lends for a most enjoyable and at times pantomime-type evening.
It’s a real tonic.
Carmel Thomason, Manchester Theatre Awards
Opera Della Luna have been producing innovative productions of musical theatre for nearly twenty years. Their present tour of Gilbert and Sullivanís The Mikado keeps up their high standards of producing accessible enjoyable shows on a smaller scale than the bigger companies.
The Mikado, or its alternative title of The Town of Titipu originally opened in 1885 and over the last hundred and thirty years has become one of the most performed pieces of musical theatre in the world. Written to satirise the politics and institutions of Victorian Britain, the opera was set in Japan to lessen the harshness of the satire.
Nanki-Poo arrives in Titipu to reclaim the lovely Yum-Yum, after falling in love with her months earlier but being unable to pursue her as she was engaged to Ko-Ko. He has heard that Ko-Ko has been executed, so belelives he can return. However to his dismay he is advised that Ko-Ko was reprieved and that Ko-Ko and Yum-Yum are to be married the following day. He goes to commit suicide but is persuaded not to by Ko-Ko, bargaining for marriage to Yum-Yum for a month before he has to be executed in order to comply with the law. What only Yum-Yum knows is, who Nanki-Poo really is.
Opera Della Luna have put together this production with a minimal cast of just seven performers and limited sets yet have pulled off one of the best productions of the show I have seen. From the opening scene in the tailorís shop through to the hysterically funny version of Hereís A How-de-do, everything has been carefully crafted and skillfully presented. The occasional mild swear word, northern accents and references to modern politics and influences only enhance the entire effect.
Tim Walton is a personable Nanki-Poo, making it easy to see why Yum-Yum would fall for him, while Victoria Joyceís Yum-Yum is the perfect fashion model with a stunning voice. The rest of the cast are as strong with John Griffiths making both Pish-Tush and The Mikado strong personalities in their own right, while Carl Sanderson is a wonderfully pompous Pooh-Bah. Nichola Jolley is a highly expressive Pitti-Sing and Louise Crane doubles up as the third sister Peep-Po and the elderly widow Katisha. But is is Richard Gauntlett who steals the show as a highly comedic, physically slapstick Ko-Ko. Combined with his stunning voice, he is outstanding is his ability to make Ko-Ko both a source of fun and a source of empathy.
The Mikado is one of Gilbert and Sullivanís most accessible works. Opera Della Luna have made it perfect for the modern world and an ideal introduction to the wit and skill of Gilbert and Sullivan musical theatre.
Helen Jones, The Public Reviews
The current cast of The Mikado, 2013:
The Mikado of Japan