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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Mikado

The sun, whose rays
Are all ablaze
With ever-living glory,
Does not deny
His majesty--
He scorns to tell a story!
He won't exclaim,
"I blush for shame,
So kindly be indulgent."
But, fierce and bold,
In fiery gold,
He glories all effulgent!
— Yum-Yum
The Mikado
Richard Suart as Ko-Ko kissing the foot of Richard Angas as the Mikado (Photo: Chris Christodoulou)
Jonathan Miller's famous black and white production of The Mikado is celebrating its 25th anniversary revival production, a quarter of a century since it originated in London with Eric Idle of Monty Python fame as Ko-Ko, the small town tailor thrown into prominence as the Lord High Executioner. In this production the role is taken by the excellent Mr Richard Suart whose clarity of diction is second to none. The fictional Japanese town of Titipu becomes an English seaside resort in the 1920s with elderly gentlemen eyeing the chorus of saucy waitresses in short black skirts and frilly aprons or maybe, if they are so inclined, rather camp, white coated bell boys.

Despite its theatrical age, this production is delightfully fresh and the cream Palm Court hotel set still takes your breath away with its cream palms, cello, grand piano, gramophone and soaring architecture. Gilbert and Sullivan wrote this as a political satire based on small town politics in Victorian England and officious local officials. The Japanese setting was incidental. Pooh-Bah (Mr Donald Maxwell) is Lord High Everything Else having hoovered up every sinecure and local appointment so that he is often giving permission to himself in a bureaucratic nightmare for the rest of us.

There is great visual wit from the vicar with his harlequined knee socks to the elderly gentlemen with their red carnations miming like marionettes. The mincing page boys manage to look rather uninterested when the song refers to the prospect of a Nancy on their knee. The chorus maids convey a deliberate air of amateurish, shambolic choreography and the high kicking bell boys are deliberately out of sync. Some of the schoolgirls have been cast from those a good few decades past their schooldays as no opportunity has been missed to raise a laugh. I liked the girls in silk dresses lining up to coiffe the hair of the one in front. Ko-Ko also manages to inject some Richard III into his performance. As well as the lyrical wit there is the famously rewritten topical list of potential executions that Ko-Ko delivers with topical references to the coalition government and the Royal Wedding invitations.

In a striped blazer and white flannels, popular tenor Mr Alfie Boe plays Nanki-Poo, the "wandering minstrel" with his divine singing voice, secret royal connections and rival with Ko-Ko for the hand of the delicious schoolgirl soprano Yum-Yum (Miss Sophie Bevan). The massively girthed Mikado (Mr Richard Angas) arrives with the sound of drums and has his shoes licked by the supplicating Ko-Ko. The villainess and promised to Nanki-Poo, Katisha (Miss Anne-Marie Owens) has a wonderful contralto voice and despite her vilification, her song "When Hope is Gone" is very moving.

Gilbert and Sullivan still have a body of fans who appreciate the good tunes and the witty lyrics but this magnificent production breathes new life into the repertoire.

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The Mikado
Music by Arthuir Sullivan
Text by WS Gilbert
Directed by Jonathan Miller
Conductor: Peter Robinson

Starring: Mr Richard Angas, Mr Alfie Boe, Mr Richard Suart, Mr Donald Maxwell, Mr William Robert Allenby, Miss Sophie Bevan, Miss Claudia Huckle, Miss Fiona Canfield, Miss Anne-Marie Owens, Mr David Newman
Leader: Gonzalo Acosta
Chorus Master: Martin Merry
Set Designer: Stefanos Lazaridis
Costume Designer: Sue Blane
Associate Director: Elaine Tyler-Hall
Lighting: Davy Cunningham
Lighting revived by Ian Jackson-French
Original Choreographer: Anthony van Last
Choreography revived by Stephen Speed
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0871 911 0200
Booking to 11th March 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th February 2011 performance at The London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, London WC2N 4ES (Tube: Leicester Square)

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