Wilton’s Music Hall, London
June 7-July 1, then touring
Director: Sasha Regan
Producer: Regan De Wynter Williams
Musical director: Anto Buckley
Running time: Two hours 30 including interval
Cast: Elliot Akeister, Shane Antony-Whitely, Oliver Bradley-Taylor, Owen Clayton, Patrick Cook, Harry Cooper-Millar, Struan Davidson, George Dawes, Declan Egan, Francisco Gomes, Christopher Hewitt, Sam Kipling, Lewis Kennedy, David McKechnie, Aidan Nightingale, Richard Russell Edwards.
In 1885, when the Mikado began delighting audiences, it was expedient to set the splendidly silly light opera in Japan to give it maximum freedom to satirise British institutions.
Director Sasha Regan, renowned across the land for her saucy, single-sex versions of Gilbert and Sullivan, travels in time not space to send up a 1950s public school camping trip, in its way as exotic as imperial Japan.
From the outset, she has the audience exploding with laughter at the spectacle of grown men in shorts of varying lengths. In an atmosphere that keeps the darkest forces at bay, we embrace a topsy-turvy world of appalling dilemmas created by idiotic laws that hark back to the nonsense of Lewis Carroll rather than insisting on troubling comparisons with the arbitrariness and dysfunctionality of our own political realities.
The greatest joys are in the second half, when the plot is cranked to the height of absurdity and the pressing question is how a happy ending can be contrived.
Given the startling absence of good judgement, the best hope is that good luck will prevail, and, as in Regan’s previous work, the richness of the comedy stems from the genuine tension and emotion generated.
As the lovers crossed by man and his laws, Miss Violet Plumb (Sam Kipling) and Bertie Hugh (Declan Egan) may appear ridiculous – Violet in ultra short shorts, all the better to display her legs, and Bertie in 1950s knitted waistcoat – but they stir us with their musical harmony and their painful predicament that, however improbable, acquires the force of truth.
Their adversaries, more muddling than malign, are led somewhat accidentally by David McKechnie as Mr Cocoa (as opposed to Ko-Ko in the original Japanese setting), a lowly tailor, familiar with only sartorial suits, who has had the office of Lord High Executioner thrust upon him.
McKechnie’s standout performances are his little list, amended for our times, and a rendition of Tit Willow sufficiently tender to soothe the lovelorn Kitty Shaw, played by Christopher Hewitt, redoubtable, yet poignant, in tweed.
Lewis Kennedy as the Mikado, towers above them all as the constraints of a small stage are turned to great effect in a production that thrives on the disproportionate. Similarly, the schoolboys are all the more overgrown because they fill the available space.
Aidan Nightingale, as Albert Barr, relishes his multiple high offices, while Kipling’s soaringly musical Plumb is accompanied by the tripping Owen Clayton as Bluebell Tring and Richard Russell Edwards, adept at physical comedy, as Hebe Flo.
Complete with an ensemble in powerful voice, Regan’s warm and humane Mikado is a reminder of how much theatre’s most reliable crowd pleasers – musicals, and also pantomimes, – owe to the surprisingly modern wit of the Victorian era.
Barbara Lewis © 2023.