When the RZ first visited London in Spring 2004, he happened, by chance, to see the English National Opera’s legendary production of The Mikado. Having just seen Jerry Springer the night before, he was asking for recommendations at the TKTS booth and a lovely camp fellow pointed out that nobody should ever miss a British production of G&S. How right he was - the RZ scored front row seats for a song and had the show ruined for him forever, as no other production he has seen since lived up to that night.
Needless to say, a chance to revisit the Coliseum for this year’s short (9 performances over three weekends) revival was one he refused to miss. While his seat wasn’t as good, the orchestra suspiciously smaller, and the audience a bit noisier, Jonathan Miller’s production (slavishly reconstructed here by David Ritch) is still every bit as funny, stylish, and entertaining as before (with the added bonus of surtitles this time!)
For those short on the G&S canon, The Mikado is set in a rather Victorian representation of “Japan”. Nanki-Poo (Robert Murray), a wandering minstrel with a secret, falls in love with Yum-Yum (Sarah Tynan), a beautiful schoolgirl. Unfortunately, Yum-Yum is set to marry Ko-Ko (Richard Suart), the town’s tailor who becomes Lord High Executioner to prevent his own beheading for violating Japan’s laws against flirting. When word comes down from The Mikado that an execution must occur to ensure the laws are being upheld, Nanki-Poo agrees to die in exchange for 30 days with Yum-Yum. Hilarity and panic ensue as we find out Nanki-Poo is heir to the throne and due to a mix-up at court, is set to marry the foul and demanding Katisha (Frances McCafferty). Saying more would be a spoiler (such as a 100+ year old show can have), and watching Gilbert’s madness unfold and resolve itself is a joy to be experienced rather than described.
And then there’s the mandatory update to “I Have A Little List,” Ko-Ko’s song about those who should die if he ever has to perform his duties. Changed regularly to fit the day’s headlines and sensibilities, Richard Suart writes his own material, and has perhaps outdone himself this year with references to David Cameron, Facebook, Northern Rock, and bringing the show to a near halt with the Archbishop of Cantebury’s recent comments on Sharia.
Given that the first production of this staging occurred 20+ years ago and many of the cast have been repeating their roles for any number of the revivals, opportunity abounds for empty, stale performances. Thank goodness that (as other critics have mentioned) that a rival production ran in competition ten minutes away, as the performances remained fresh (as it should anyways - nine performances are not hard to fake your way through!) and Stefanos Lazaridis’ raked art-deco set of doom was thoroughly well dusted.
The RZ has only a few grievances with this production, primarily administrative. First, while the ENO deserve props for making a free cast and crew list available, the members of the company’s singing chorus are not listed in either the free handout or the paid programme (though the dancing chorus are). Likewise, for a company that receives tens of millions of pounds in subsidy, why are the ENO’s programmes £4.50? Even the most expensive West End offerings are £3-3.50 at last check. Last, while Mr. Suart is indeed very funny, it’s rather tasteless to leave A4 photocopies advertising his book all over the seats of the theatre. This is the opera, something advertised as classy, high culture, not the circus.
That said, most people don’t care who’s in the singing chorus, won’t buy a programme anyway, and can throw out the book advert. And right they should (the last two) - with a top ticket of £83 for weekend performances, this Mikado is perhaps the most expensive show yet reviewed by the RZ, but one that should not be missed and indeed stay on everybody’s theatre-going list.
Where: Coliseum Theatre
When: 15, 21, 23 Feb, 04 Mar @ 19:30, 23 Feb @ 14:30, 2 Mar @ 15:00
How Much: £10-£83 (prices change by date, check the ENO website for details)
Concessions: Students on “Access All Arias” can get upper circle for £10, dress circle for £20, and stalls for £30 by booking on the phone or at the BO. Sky Arts have a subsidy that varies production to production at ENO, check the ENO Website for the special number to call.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £55 to match the majority of West End top tickets.
RZ Other Thoughts: An excellent production of a legendary show, but likewise a testament to the money pit that is the opera. For those who will not be able to attend this run (or don’t have the money to buy non-student passes), an official DVD is out in Region 1 featuring this production’s original 1987 cast, including Eric Idle as Ko-Ko, and also includes a behind the scenes documentary in the bonus features.