Monday, 28 February 2011

The Mikado - English National Opera at The London Coliseum

Writer: Gilbert & Sullivan
Director: Jonathan Kent
Conductor: Peter Robinson
Reviewer: Jeffrey Mayhew

It is not in any way to denigrate the multitude of Mikados performed at many different levels (all with love and enthusiasm) to say that a flawlessly sung and acted version is not merely a wonderful experience but almost a new perspective on such a well known piece.  

This jewel of a production with Sue Clane's beautifully characterised costumes in Stefan Lazarides stunning surrealist deco set is entertainment of the highest order from beginning to end.  This is a production which seems to be permanently on its toes; tripping exquisitely from set piece to set piece with a whiff of inter-war campery adding discreet spice to the convolutions of the plot.  The corps de ballet (original choreographer Anthony van Laast, revival choreographer Stephen Speed) punctuate and support the wonderful singing and pacy action with deft, witty flourishes as the baggage bearing and feather duster wielding staff of some Hotel Splendide where the (very British)  "gentlemen of Japan" and the equally British schoolgirls gather to see through the suitably comica opera machinations.

The bill boards talk in terms of a stellar cast and they are not wrong.  Alfie Boe is a brilliant Nankie-Poo; a preppy Bertie Wooster meeting Algernon with perfect comedic touches and wonderful movement.  All this is so good that had he Rex Harrisoned his way through the role he would have been loved but, of course, he has a beautiful tenor voice so cue audience rapture!There are no howevers and caveats in the rest of the cast either.  Pooh-Bah's quintessentially Ealing vicar is an inspired piece of characterisation sung with delicacy and refinement by William Robert Allenby.  Donald Maxwell allows the Scot in him full rein to truly great effect as the completely corrupt, grasping and cheerfully unrepentant Pooh-Bah.  It is no surprise that Sophie Bevan (Yum-Yum) has a repertoire featuring many baroque roles and that Pamina is soon to be performed by her.  She brings a truly beautiful voice to this role as well as wit and verve.  "The Sun Whose Rays..." surely has rarely been better sung and performed.  Fiona Canfield (Peep-Bo) and Claudia Huckle (Pitti-Sing) complete a delicious and irresistible trio.  Claudia Huckle made particularly charming work of trying to deceive the Mikado.  Richard Suart's Ko-Ko has to be a classic take on a fabulous role.  Skittering between refeened and Fools and Horses his diminutive, perky chancer is a heart stealer as well as a scene stealer.  All the time, of course, particularly in a fine production, those in the know eagerly await the coming of Katisha.  Just how Katisha-like will she be.  Expectations here were fulfilled to the brim and over.  Anne Marie Owens was Katisha and the vision of her suffocating Ko-Ko in her bosom will remain with me for a long time.  Again, also beautiful singing.  But then it all is.   

All the audience could possibly have hoped for was a second half as good but this was not to be.  The second half exceeded any expectations we could have had when the cast was joined by the Mikado himself.  and what subtle artistry Richard Angas brought to the role.  Stylish, amusing and deeply disturbing his inflated Robert Morley of a Mikado was a supreme element in an already supreme production.  Jonathan Miller come forward and be thanked for it all!  And he did - with Peter Robinson who conducted with both tact and bravura - and the audience were loathe to let any of them go.  A magnificent night!

Runs until 10th March
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