This is the most well-known and popular operetta from Gilbert and Sullivan and I had no doubt that Director Simon Moss would have given it a new twist. As the programme notes say it is set in ‘a timeless Japan of the imagination’, and as the alternative title is ‘The Town of Titipu’ it was fitting that it was set in various locations around the town, including the humorous scene in the gents loo. The costumes had been cleverly designed to give a flavour of ancient Japan in more modern costume, as with the ladies chorus with traditional wigs but dressed in white blouses and black skirts, with a small ‘obi’ at the back. The men’s chorus were in shirts with ties, and a waistcoat with a jacket, which had long flowing sleeves, all topped by a bowler hat. The male principals were dressed similarly but had additional parts to their costumes to identify their characters. The dresses of the ‘school girls’ were more like kimonos but they wore their hair loose and had straw hats. I particularly liked Katisha’s costumes, Yum-Yum’s wedding dress and The Mikado’s headdress.
The show opened with arrival, by train, of ‘The Citizens of Japan’, as there were not many men in the chorus having a full chorus of ‘citizens’ worked well; the ‘train’ was used again later for the arrival of the schoolgirls. A great deal of the action took place in City Hall, with the ladies chorus as secretaries. The idea of the Japanese screens to separate the different ‘offices’ was good and would have worked very well if it had been possible to slide them in and out, but unfortunately they took quite a lot of manoeuvring and slowed the action. At first I liked the scene changes happening in silhouette but there were so many complex changes delivered by a team of ‘Ninjas’, that it became quite distracting and drawn out; especially when the ‘Ninjas’ started developing characters and dancing off. The bathing scene in silhouette during the overture of Act 2 was a nice idea, with Yum-Yum preparing for her wedding. The lighting was well-cued and had been well designed, giving some dramatic moments such as Katisha’s entrance and the finale of Act 1. The sound balance was good with no microphone problems.
The singing was of a good standard with excellent diction both from principals and chorus. The ensemble drowned out Katiisha very well in the finale of Act 1, and sang Mi-ya Sam-ma with feeling. The harmonies in the unaccompanied ‘Brightly Dawns Our Wedding Day’ were lovely. MD Suzanne Barnes kept her musicians under control, although they seemed to be a little quiet at times.
The show had been well cast with some strong performances. The chorus worked well together and as everyone had been given a name I think it had helped them develop individual identities. Chris Roberts, as Nanki-Poo, sang and acted with confidence, he had the air of a good-natured playboy, his interaction with Yum-Yum was good, and they handled the sometimes-difficult ‘kissing’ scene well. Grace Hawker, as Yum-Yum, gains in confidence each time I see her; she brought an element of feistiness to the role and worked well with Nanki-Poo, and sang ‘The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze’ delightfully. Bryony Smith, as Pitti-Sing and Juliet Biard, as Peep-Po both sang beautifully throughout and supported Yum-Yum well. Rob Burbidge, as Ko-Ko, came across very well as someone trying to compete out of his league. I thought the new words to ‘I’ve Got a Little List’ were very clever and ‘Tit Willow’ was sung with feeling. I actually ended up feeling quite sorry for him. Tom Mullins, as Pooh-Bah, in his many official roles, had a wonderfully supercilious sneer. He was obviously enjoying the role, gave a good performance and sang well. Selwyn Morgan, as The Mikado, gave a good delivery of the reworded Mikado’s song, but for me he was too gentle and did not show enough madness. Karen Dacre gave a commanding performance as Katisha; she took control of the stage with each appearance, and showed the unhinged side of her character well.
This was a production of a work which originated over 100 years ago to which director Simon Moss had brought new ideas. Most of the ideas worked well as with
the introduction of puppets, with KoKo as puppeteer for ‘Here’s A How-de-do’ in Act 2. There were good costumes, singing, movement and acting; but the main criticism I have is the number of drawn out scene changes, which slowed everything down and lost the momentum. Also, perhaps as a result of this, the production lacked energy and for me there was something missing. Everyone had clearly worked hard to bring the production to the stage and other members of the audience clearly enjoyed it very much.