Fans of genius director Sasha Regan (there’s a clue there about how I feel) will be thrilled that her 2017 version of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta is back. This show is as smart and witty as it is charming and tender. If you haven’t seen one of her all-male productions yet, they really are a fantastic night out.
With The Mikado, Regan has changed a little more than usual. There are lots of very good new lyrics, as the original Japanese setting has been abandoned. Instead, a group of youngsters on a camping trip – putting on a show – decide on an “undefined” location for their fictional romps. Don’t worry, it’s still the same topsy-turvy world where sweethearts Declan Egan’s Nanki-Poo, renamed Bertie Hugh, and Sam Kipling’s Yum-Yum, now Miss Violet Plum, are threatened by all manner of dotty laws.
As for the telling of the silly story, the troop of boys say they are trying their best, using their imagination… how sweet! Those taking female roles roll up their shorts and grab some flowers for their hair, there are cricket bats and tennis rackets and a lot of fun with a tent that moves around the stage.
The make-do-and-mend aesthetic belies designer Ryan Dawson Laight’s clever work, which raises smiles and is full of invention. The cut-out forest background – cue shadowy figures running around – and skilful lighting all add to a dreamy summer night feel.
There’s so much detail, and so much of it leads to laughs. Lewis Kennedy’s Geordie Mikado and David McKechnie’s Harold Steptoe-inspired Mr Cocoa are accomplished performers who are a delight to watch closely. Christopher Hewitt has a brilliant turn as Kitty Shaw (formerly Katisha) complete with a bicycle. As for getting Hewitt to sing while pumping a deflated wheel… what a great idea!
It’s all hugely entertaining. But Regan wants to make sure heart strings are still pulled in the way Gilbert and Sullivan intended. Maybe that’s one reason Hewitt is such a highlight – hilarious but leaving room for us to have sympathy for Kitty. The show is, magically, romantic through the superb work of musical director and pianist Anto Buckley who, along with Egan and Kipling, makes the show sound swoon worthy.
Regan knows Gilbert and Sullivan so well and respects each and all of their creations, so no character is ignored. Note how Owen Clayton and Richard Russell Edwards stand out as Violet’s friends. Rivals at any opportunity, both are very funny and magnetic whenever they are on stage. Regan creates a kind of generosity that her cast responds to appropriately so that an infectious atmosphere of enjoyment radiates from the stage. These are happy campers – on stage – and in the audience.
Until 1 July 2023
Photos by Mark Senior