Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mikado times two

Political correctness forced Robertsons to remove from their jams the charming gollywog logo. But The Mikado, the most successful of all the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas has survived and is even to be seen in London currently in two productions: by the English National Opera at the London Coliseum in Jonathan Miller's by now quite ancient version, black and white, hardhitting and not at all traditional, and by the Carl Rosa Company in the Gielgud Theatre where it is in repertory until 1 March, in tandem (tricycle?) with Iolanthe and The Pirates of Penzance in something like the traditional style of the D'Oyly Carte productions which adhered to the first prompt book ("two steps down stage, wait for the pause" - and so on)? At the Coli, everything is writ as large as the theatre itself. In the intimate Gielgud. the twenty or so chorus members have to watch they don't bump into one another.
In the good Doctor's writ-large-production the singers are mostly members of the company whereas the Carl Rosa have sought to be sure of bums on seats by bringing in TV favourites who are probably singing for money for the first time in their lives. Thus Jo Brand is Sergeant of Police in Pirates, whilst Alistair McGowan sings (somewhat in parlando fashion but very effectively) the title role in The Mikado, whilst Nichola McAuliffe sings extremely well in a more human portrayal of Katisha than usual.
The Carl Rosa Mikado is quite soft-centred (as opposed to hard-core Doctor Miller) and quite toothsomely kitschy. Since we all know that hypocrisy and lying are the order of the day the production by Peter Molloy has no sting (though however it has a pleasant bite: several anachronistic gags as is usual these days).
I didn't see any Japanese in the audience the night I went (February 4, a Monday traditionally the worst night of the week; and although the audience was most enthusiastic and knowledgable it was sparse - can the impresario Raymond Gubbay keep going, one wonders ?) and I wonder if the Japanese shun it because of its political incorrectness, although in fact ' topsy-turviness' being Gilbert's genre the success of The Mikado is because the entire is not aimed at the Japs but at us British.

So, at the Gielgud we had a small but spirited orchestra (conductor Martin Handley), and excellent chorus and a first-class cast and it is a pleasure to name them: Andrew Rees/Nanki-Poo, Ko-Ko/Fenton Gray, Pooh-Bah Bruce Graham. Charlotte Page/Yum-Yum was pretty but a bit under-parted. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

What a joy this work is ! Sullivan's score is a masterpiece of the genre, so incredibly felicitous. If the words have barbs the music cancels them out, practically every melody is a winner, its presentation perfect. Maybe the cadences can veer towards cliche but otherwise charm, grace and a heaven-sent imagination rule the staves.

1 comment:

Semiquaver said...

Like you John we enjoyed the Mikado. I have heard that G&S would often use guest artists for their original productions. Do you know anything about this?