Simon Ames in The Surrey Mirror, The Guide, 1 March 2007
The Mikado at The Harlequin Theatre, Redhill
It is 122 years almost to the day (14 March 1885) since the first performance of The Mikado at the Savoy Theatre in London. The genius of W S Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan had revolutionised musical theatre and their latest production based on a Japanese theme would add significantly to their reputation, success and emerging wealth. The timing of the new opera with the opening of the Japanese Exhibition in Knightsbridge was another clever piece of D’Oyly Carte showmanship.
Over the intervening years, the plot has seen many variations, some of which have been very successful. In preparing the ground for Surrey Opera’s 2007 production, Jonathan Butcher applied some lateral thinking, notably along the lines that there is not a single joke or satirical jibe that fits the Japanese – but all of them fit the English. So, as the curtain rises for Act One we see that the town of Titipu has become a holiday camp of the 1950s with beach chalets, yellow-blazered officials in charge (the principals) and happy holiday-makers in sports clothing making up the chorus. The names of the original characters remain and the music as intact as the day Sullivan wrote it.
Does it work? Inherently, yes. Why? Because the linkages between old and new have been properly thought through and it wins because the whole production is intriguing and inspired. Only the die-hard G & S aficionados might defer.
As always, fine talent from the principals, exemplified by Sean Clayton in the role of Nanki-Poo, the wandering minstrel and suitor of the delicious Yum-Yum. His diction was perfection and as a key character, this was vital to the 1950s style plot. Baritone Edwin Hawkes rendered the all-powerful Mikado with dignity and purpose. Tim Baldwin captured the multi-office holder with a versatile performance and Angela Fuller was perfection in the grasping role of Katisha, the determined suitor of Nanki-Poo. Angela’s list of credits includes playing this role at the Savoy Theatre with the modern D’Oyly Carte company.
In spite of suffering from laryngitis, Jane Streeton delivered a finely characterised performance as Yum-Yum with support from her understudy Carol-Anne Grainger who sang the set-piece song for her amid the orchestra.
The two sets were well built and convincing, the beachside scene in Act One and the seaside theatre in holiday camp style of Act Two was a precise replica. The set builders contributed hugely to creating those essential linkages that I mentioned earlier.
Members of Surrey Opera proved to be so convincing in playing the casual role as holidaymakers, producing sound and vision to an exceptionally high standard for all the big choral numbers, so warmly rewarded by an enthusiastic audience.
Jonathan Butcher’s creative abilities have been a feature of successive Surrey Opera productions and this one is certain to be high on the list, together with the orchestra that he conducts who created Sir Arthur Sullivan’s music in perfect balance to bring a memorable performance.
Derrick Graham in Words and Music May-July 2007 edition
Very inventive Mikado
In the desire to try something different we have seen the Mikado set in some strange places over the years. Surrey Opera’s production is set in a 1950s Holiday Camp at the Harlequin, Redhill. Amazingly most of the words (with slight tweaking) seem to fit the changed settings, although chopping off someone’s head for flirting in 1950 does present a problem. All the changed settings use the visit of the Mikado as an inspection of the company by the big boss, a sort of Sir Billy Butlin/Fred Pontin character played by Edwin Hawkes. The staff become Yellow Coats, the holiday makers the wonderful chorus and the three little maids domestic staff. It all becomes very Hi-de-Hi with accents, characterisations and make-up to suit. Which made for a wonderful production and something entirely different.
The casting of Paul Sheehan as Ko-Ko was a masterstroke, bringing his skill as a conjurer and ventriloquist into the role added some wonderful touches. Thus we had his song to Katisha, Tit Willow , performed by a bird dummy with the words appearing to come from its beak and not a lip movement from Ko-Ko. Jonathan’s orchestra was held firmly in control and accompanied, not competed with the singers. Tim Baldwin was Pooh-Bah, holding down all the management roles at the Holiday Camp brilliantly “partnered” in this by Paul Hancock’s Pish-Tush with his wonderful voice. A group of “Japanese” holiday makers arrived and enabled the opening song We are Gentleman of Japan to fit into the setting.The three little maids, Jane Streeton, Rebecca Stockland and Melanie Lodge, broke off from their chalet cleaning for their famous song. It was feared that Yum-Yum might have to be sung by her understudy, but in the event Jane Streeton’s voice held out. Melanie Lodge made a wonderful Peggy from Hi-de-Hi playing Peep-Bo. Katisha, as the Mikado’s PA, arrived in a dark business suit on a tandem (with chauffeur) in the style of Gladys Pugh famous for her calls to the campers. The slight Welsh accent was there but when the fabulous contralto voice of Angela Fuller took over she became the furious abandoned would be wife of Ko-Ko.
For the final curtain, after the bows, a long chest labelled Ko Ko was brought on.Peep-Bo was put in it, sawn in half and wheeled off with legs waving from one trolley and head and arms from the other. Great theatre.