THE MIKADO at Wilton’s Music Hall
“grabs you by the cheeks, pulling them out into the widest smile“
With a backdrop of tall slender trees silhouetted against a mist of dusky blue light, sits a solitary tent. There is an Englishness that removes the location as far away as possible from the fictitious Japanese town of Titipu, further emphasized by the main characters being renamed as though they have all wandered in from a ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ story. There is no discernible reason for the resetting, but it is immediately clear that this is going to be lot of fun indeed. With lashings of laughs. Sasha Regan’s all-male “The Mikado”, which first toured in 2017, is a topsy-turvy romp that, despite having only one tent as the central scenic prop, is as camp as a whole row of them.
Kimonos and fans are replaced by baggy shorts and cricket bats in a world where Enid Blyton has collaborated with Morecambe and Wise. As inventive as it is confusing, at least it has done away with the cutesy but dated and potentially disrespectful Japanese monikers. Nanki-Poo, the Mikado’s estranged son disguised as a wandering minstrel, is now Bertie Hugh. Central love interest Yum-Yum becomes Miss Plumb. Pooh-Bah is Albert Barr, Pish-Tush, Wilfred Lush… well, you get the drift. Except that the town’s name is left intact. Here, in Titipu (‘titter ye not’, boys and girls) it has been decreed by the Mikado (Lewis Kennedy) that all flirting is punishable by death. His son and heir, Bertie Hugh (Declan Egan) has fled to escape an arranged marriage to Kitty Shaw (Christopher Hewitt). Disguised as a wandering minstrel, Bertie returns to court his true love Miss Violet Plumb (Sam Kipling), only to discover she is betrothed to Mr Cocoa (David McKechnie) the High Executioner.
A fairly conventional basis for the farcical plot twists that unravel from it. Boy loves girl. Both are unhappily betrothed to others. Yet the fanciful and completely loopy laws of Titipu add spice to the conundrum. Unrequited love is one thing – being buried alive or beheaded is another thing entirely. It is highly enjoyable and highly silly in equal measure. Even if the 1950s scout-camp setting doesn’t necessarily have a point, the updating and adaptation of W. S. Gilbert’s libretto is ingeniously witty and clever. But what brings this production to vivid life is the performances from a superbly talented company. Led by Musical Director Anto Buckley on piano, Arthur Sullivan’s score is held in high respect and delivered beautifully by this all-male ensemble. They instinctively know the nuances and can marry the comedy with the emotional force required by the compositions.
The beauty of Buckley’s solo piano accompaniment allows the voices to shine; undiluted, unadulterated and unenhanced by technical wizardry. Sam Kipling’s solo – the gorgeous ‘The Sun, Whose Rays are All Ablaze” is a shimmering example, with not a false note to the falsetto. David McKechnie’s scheming, wide boy Mr Cocoa belies a purity of voice, as does Declan Egan’s bumbling Bertie. Christopher Hewitt’s jilted Kitty Shaw is rich in tone and comic flair, particularly during his solo, ‘Alone, and yet Alive’. When the company all comes together in harmony the effect is mesmerising: a gorgeous juxtaposition of virtuoso singing with the spirit of burlesque.
The book contains many of the stock paradoxes and Catch-22 quandaries inherent in Gilbert and Sullivan’s works. Regan’s setting is a little conflicting and confusing, but once you’ve accepted it, the joy of this fun-filled production reaches out and grabs you by the heart. It also grabs you by the cheeks, pulling them out into the widest smile. Sometimes it feels as though the cast are enjoying themselves a little too much. However, it always feels as though the audience are enjoying it more.
Reviewed on 9th June 2023
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Mark Senior
Previously reviewed at this venue: