Monday, 4 February 2008

The Mikado - ENO

The Mikado by Gilbert & Sullivan
ENO @ The Coliseum: 2nd Feb – 4th Mar (9 Perf)
Originally Directed by Jonathan Miller
Revival Direction by David Ritch
Conducted by Wyn Davis
Reviewed by Laura Evelyn

The dazzling contrast of the brilliant white and cream set against the darkness of the auditorium kicked off Jonathan Miller’s glorious 2008 adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic ‘The Mikado’ in a most spectacular way.

The set, designed Stefanos Lazaridis, was a perfect backdrop to the action as it unfolded. It formed a richly textured background without being overwhelming. Particularly effective details included some dramatic shadows, an elaborate expressionist-style parquet floor and a working fountain. The interesting use of proportion; for example a giant cocktail glass and a man climbing a ladder to reach a mantle piece, added to the eccentric nature of the opera.

Sue Blane is to be congratulated on her fabulous costumes. Whilst almost entirely monochrome, the costumes, which included school uniforms, bridesmaid dresses and morning suits, were entirely in keeping with the period and the attention to detail was exquisite. Touches of colour, such as red and yellow button holes were a clever contrast, adding yet another dimension. Katisha’s evening dresses were wondrous and the pairing of an elegant silk dress with nylon pop socks during her best high kicking efforts, had the audience in stitches.

The dancing maids and bellhops were very talented and had been expertly choreographed by Stephen Speed. There were lots of exuberant high leg kicks mixed with Charleston dance moves and tap dancing. At several points, most of the cast were dancing and the effect was magnificent.

Richard Suart stole the show with his wonderfully comic portrayal of Koko. His lapses into cockney patter were hilarious, as was his very physical and camply dramatic acting. His infamous Little List song, which apparently he writes different lyrics for at each performance, was most funny. The audience roared with laughter as he sang about topical issues and celebrities like Derek Conway, Nigella Lawson, Jeremy Paxman’s pants, Ed Balls, David Beckham, Facebook and Northern Rock. Suart’s irrepressible energy added a real vitality to his character.

The jilted elderly Katisha was another triumphant performance. Frances McCafferty was every inch the Prima Donna. Her sudden arrival on stage, complete with flying goggles, appeared to surprise both the actors and audience alike. This talented singer was able to switch easily between being haunting, when she sang a solo about being alone, and comical, when she was reminding everyone to bow down to her as Mikado’s daughter-in-law elect. Her stage presence was very powerful and she certainly came across as a force to be reckoned with.

The great Pooh-Bah, played masterfully by Graeme Danby, encapsulated an unbelievable snobbishness and arrogance. Full of his own self-importance, Pooh-Bah was a suitable comic foil for the more delicate and feminine Pitti Sing. Pitti Sing (Anna Grevelius), whilst glamorous, was the weakest singer of the main characters. At times it was a struggle to hear her clearly.

Robert Murray totally had the measure of the hapless love-sick Nanki-Poo down to a tee. His interactions with Koko and his on-stage chemistry with the beautiful, expressive and musically talented Yum-Yum (Sarah Tynan) was very believable and amusing.

As one would expect at the ENO, the music was divine. The orchestra, directed by Wyn Davies, was superb and the clarinets delivered a particularly noteworthy performance.

The show ended with several extremely well deserved curtain calls, some standing ovations and rapturous applause from the audience. Now in its 12th revival, this performance was totally sumptuous and is definitely a must-see.

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