Tuesday, October 3

The Mikado – Wilton’s Music Hall

Take one classic operetta, mix it up a bit, add some brilliant choreography, phenomenal singing and a fantastically talented all-male ensemble and you have a witty and joyful new show. Gilbert and Sullivan purists might object, but Sasha Regan’s imaginative take is stuffed full of all the elements that make a hit show. 

First performed in 1885, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado was set in Japan so they could take sideswipes at the British establishment and idiotic laws, but with plausible deniability, by referencing a far-off land. At the heart of the convoluted plot is the law enacted by the Mikado that makes flirting a capital crime. Along comes the Mikado’s son, in the guise of a wandering minstrel, who has fallen in love with a young lady who is the ward of the Lord High Executioner, who himself is still under sentence of death for flirting. Unfortunately for the young man, his beloved is betrothed to her guardian. To make matters worse, he has attracted the advances of an older woman from his father’s court, who believes she is to marry the young man. Then the Mikado decides that there haven’t been enough beheadings recently and the young man, lovelorn and angst-ridden, offers himself up to be beheaded. All the popular songs have been retained, A Wand’ring Minstrel I, Three Little Maids From School, The Flowers That Bloom In The Spring (Tra-la!), though the introductory song that references the “gentlemen of Japan” has been substantially reworked and now they sing about a “fantasy land” which this truly is.

Regan has anglicised many of the characters’ names, while echoing their originals, so Nanki-Poo (the young suitor) becomes Bertie Hugh, Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner is now Cocoa, Yum-Yum is Violet Plumb and Pooh-Bah (the Lord High Everything Else) is now Albert Barr. The most delightful switch though is Katisha becoming Kitty Shaw. It makes it all sound very English village. This is in keeping with the production being set in a 1950s boy scout camp, the cast all in short trousers and Fairisle jumpers. It has a jolly, jamboree atmosphere. Ryan Dawson Laight’s stage design is simple but effective – one movable tent and a few boxes with a backdrop of trees, plus a campfire for toasting fake sausages and marshmallows.

There’s a slew of amazing performances. Declan Egan’s sweet Bertie has a beautiful, rich tone to his voice. Bertie and Violet Plumb have a delightful chemistry and it’s Sam Kipling’s Violet who produces a show-stopping rendition of The Sun, Whose Rays Are All Ablaze in the second Act. Kipling’s sublime performance is nothing less than a vocal masterclass of range and breath control. Kitty Shaw (Christopher Hewitt) is a magnificent creation, although presented as the stereotypical older, bitter unmarried woman chasing a young man, Hewitt’s comic timing produces many laugh-out-loud moments. Her struggles with a bicycle pump in particular provoke audience guffaws. The entire cast is exceptional, together making a powerful sound and managing G&S’s complex lyrics with ease and precision. Choreography by Adam Haigh is boisterous and high-energy. There are mentions of previous productions and Cocoa’s “I’ve got a little list” song (As Some Day It May Happen), detailing all the people who “would not be missed”, takes some jabs at current annoyances, but this is a missed opportunity for more incisive topical references. As they sing at the beginning though, this is a fantasy land, so maybe this is a land to visit to forget what’s happening outside, at least for a couple of hours.

Regan has created a gloriously bonkers production, full of energy, joy and fun. If there’s a “little list” of shows that “should not be missed”, this Mikado must definitely be on that list.

The Mikado is at Wilton’s Music Hall until 1st July. Tickets on sale from: Sasha Regan’s all-male The Mikado www.wiltons.org.uk

The show then goes on tour until 29th July.

Reviewer: Carole Gordon

Reviewed: 9th June 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.