Ah, The Mikado. Always the light-operatic bridesmaid, and never the bride – oft-quoted, and with an undeniable cultural impact, but never quite anybody’s favourite. Following a number of writers Gilbert and Sullivan’s usual conventions, The Mikado is a fast-talking comic satire of British institutions, ostensibly transported to Japan to avoid pointing fingers too directly at the British establishment.
Of all G&S’s works, this is probably the one that’s had the most “twists” put on it – and in Sasha Regan’s new production, that twist is an all-male cast. With an aesthetic reminiscent of old school boy scouts, complete with khaki shorts and a set adorned with three canvas tents, it’s clear that the focus of the satire hasn’t escaped Regan’s notice. That said, if there are hints of colonial critique going on, then it’s a little unfortunate that the character most coded Japanese – the Mikado himself – is portrayed wearing two coats and his straw boater upside down. It’s an unnecessary aside to a setting that otherwise works well.
In terms of performance, there’s some pretty impressive soprano-ing going on, particularly from Alan Richardson as Yum-Yum, whose voice holds largely uncracked to the very end – a tall order, given the speed and volume at which he has to hit some of the notes. David McKetchnie has good comic timing, embracing the creep factor as the vaguely Fagin-esque Ko-Ko, and Alex Weatherhill channels Bertie Wooster’s aunts as the overbearing Katisha. Musical accompaniment, provided by musical director Richard Baker on the piano, adds to the lo-fi feel while allowing the cast’s voices to take prominence.
The thing about putting a twist on something is that it’s never for no reason. There’s always a purpose, whether it’s an alternative angle on the original message, or a whole new angle altogether. The trouble with the All-Male Mikado is that I can’t help feeling that the joke here is pointing at boys doing feminine things. Boys being pretty maids from school. Boys being coy and sweet-tempered and giggly as they’re about to be married off to their guardians. And that kind of joke rather falls flat for me, these days. The fault can partly be laid at the feet of Gilbert and Sullivan themselves, it’s true – but if Regan’s production intended to make another point, then I’m afraid it passed me by.
It’s a shame, because what there is, is executed well. But does the world really need one more Mikado, and if so, is this the one that it needs?
For more on The All-Male Mikado, which runs until today, click here.