Edinburgh Gilbert & Sullivan Society (venue)
12 March 2019 (released)
13 March 2019
THE MIKADO is Gilbert & Sullivan's most popular and best-known comic operetta. EDGAS (The Edinburgh Gilbert & Sullivan Society) put on a G & S show practically every year in this charming Victorian theatre. Justifiably the company has a reputation to live up to and, judging from their latest production, it would appear that they are not going to let us down with this Evergreen.
The plot is not exactly difficult to follow, however, the real difficulty in this area is finding people who can sing well AND act. Somehow EDGAS always seem to be able to pull off both demands effortlessly. The action takes place in the fictional Japanese town of Titipu.
When Ko-Ko (newcomer Colin Povey), a local tailor, is condemned to death for flirting he escapes a cruel fate when, at the last minute, he is raised to the rank of Lord High Executioner (albeit an inexperienced one). After all, why not make Ko-Ko the executioner, as the townsfolk didn't favour the idea of execution and the executioner could hardly chop his own head off?
Enter Nanki-Poo (a tenor) who arrives in town and singing the famous song 'A Wandering Minstrel'. Young Sam Selbie making his debut here with EDGAS does the song justice. He informs the townsfolk that he is looking for his lost love Yum-Yum (Jennifer Murray) but doesn’t reveal that he is in actuality the son of the almighty overlord Mikado. Nanki-Poo has been forced into exile as his father has decreed he marry Katisha (one of G & S's proverbial battle-axes). He then is informed by the noble Lord Pish-Tush (the redoubtable veteran Ian Lawson) that Yum-Yum is now betrothed to Ko-Ko. So what is to be done regarding Nanki- Poo's passion for Yum-Yum – who sings ‘Three little maids from school are we’ together with Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing (Annabel Hamid and Claire Lumsden respectively). Ko-Ko soon arrives and goes straight into the famous patter song 'I've got a little list' and here EDGAS have an out and out field day: back in the day, W.S. Gilbert gave his full consent for 'updating' his political lampooning and obviously hardly any of Gilbert's original targets remain. In view of the current near unprecedented political climate it would be silly not to take advantage of it. So we get references to the Gatwick drones scandal, President Trump and obviously the Brexit nightmare, courtesy of Theresa May; that last stab was clearly the most appreciated with cheers and applause. Ko-Ko, who fancies his ward Yum-Yum for himself (though she does not fancy him) agrees to Nanki-Poo’s demand of a ‘happy death’ – meaning the latter cannot live without Yum-Yum, therefore is rather dead than alive. Realising that nothing would change the situation, Ko-Ko strikes a bargain with Nanki-Poo: he is allowed to marry Yum-Yum for one month only, after that he will be beheaded by Ko-Ko… who then plans to marry the widowed Yum-Yum. Wedding plans are put into place and Yum-Yum gets to sing the hilarious ‘The sun whose rays’, reflecting on her own beauty. However, a flaw in the ‘deal’ is soon discovered when it emerges that the law not only demands a married man needs to be beheaded for flirting, but his wife should be buried alive. Suffice to say Yum-Yum has a sudden change of heart with regards to marrying Nanki-Poo, prompting him to ask Ko-Ko to execute him on the spot.
Then a letter arrives from the Mikado demanding an execution! What is to be done? After a number of shenanigans, Ko-Ko and his right hand man and Lord High of just about everything Pooh-Bah (a highly polished performance from Simon Boothroyd) decide to pretend they have executed Nanki-Poo - thus allow him to leave Titipu with Yum-Yum in nuptial bliss. Then horror of all horrors: suddenly it is announced that the mighty Mikado (Zorbey Turkalp – bass-baritone) will be making a visit. Of course he is delighted that there has been an execution BUT when he discovers that it was his own son who was (supposedly) executed other heads will surely roll. Unfortunately in doing their collaborative good deed, Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and Yum-Yum's friend Peep-Bo are now facing a slow and lingering death themselves. If this isn't bad enough The Mikado has brought with him none other than his 'daughter-in- law elect' the fearsome Katisha (Barbara Scott, in a role she played as a teenager thirty years ago) who is far from pleased to hear this disastrous news. Never mind, these ARE comic operettas… it isn't Tosca so we know that all's well that end's well. But there will be a price to pay if Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and Peep-Bo wish to save their necks and no prizes for guessing that Ko-Ko is forced to compromise by pretending he has the hots for Katisha, her with ‘a caricature of a face’… cue for Ko-Ko’s ‘On a tree by a river… tit-Willow’ song.
With this production we get the usual sterling job from artistic director Alan Borthwick and musical director David Lyle. Nice performances all round, it hardly matters if there are traces of Scots accents as everyone is supposed to be Japanese anyway. Zorbey Turkalp is a towering man with a good bass-baritone; here singing without any political updates save for 'painted with vigour' which makes little sense, but was substituted many years ago. Artist Colin Povey (whose paintings can be glimpsed at on the last page of the souvenir programme) makes a successful debut as the new 'little man' and I am sure we'll be seeing more of him. The scenes with Katisha work particularly well. In addition there are nicely and well-painted sets to boot for Titipu while the costumes make for a mighty colourful display. That said, the ladies wigs resembled more 1920’s-style flapper bobs rather than traditional Japanese hairstyles, while Katisha’s headgear seems to have had a mind of its own…
If you haven't seen G & S before then THE MIKADO, twith its glittering array of hit numbers, is a great starting point. It should be pointed out that Gilbert was a first rate early satirist; you don't have to be old to appreciate this.
THE MIKADO runs until Sat 16th March (www.capitaltheatres.com)
Photo credit: Ross Main