Sasha Regan’s All-Male Mikado: Wilton’s Music Hall
This classic G&S Operetta, the Mikado, not only fields an all-male cast, but has been transported to a 1950s private boys’ school camping trip: an inspired idea to ramp up the comedy to the max, even if there was a little ‘modified rapture’ in places.
Except for retaining the name of the town of Titipu (it is, after all, the alternate title), all references to anything Japanese have been substituted, including the character names which caused a big chuckle from this reviewer.
The simple two-level set of with a back cloth of tree silhouettes and a well-used mobile ridge tent served the action well, with the gauze used occasionally for added comedy. It should be noted however that the action around the camp fire on the lower level isn’t visible to much of the audience. Lighting was effectively used to create mood and time of day and the costume design-which added soft hues of pink, lilac, green and tartan to the khaki-hinted at a Scottish location.
The cast gave us every conceivable schoolboy character in the opening numbers, with energetic and witty choreography from Adam Haigh, and throughout the evening props were versatilely used to enhance the musical numbers, none more so than in the Wandering Minstrel number.
Declan Egan’s Bertie Hugh gave us the full-on Five- go-Mad-in-Dorset vibe; his performance throughout showcasing the most beautiful clear tenor voice. He was well-matched by Sam Kipling’s incredible top soprano notes as Miss Violet Plumb and their naïve relationship was amusing and appropriate to the 1950s Enid Blyton tone.
George Dawes and Aidan Nightingale as Wilfred Lush and Albert Barr brought their own contrasting brand of stage presence to the proceedings, although the weight of a bass-baritone voice might have lent some authority to the character of the latter.
The transformation to the female characters was achieved very simply by rolling up their shorts, removing waistcoats and ties, draping the knitwear seductively and most importantly, transforming the body language so brilliantly-especially in the case of Owen Clayton as Bluebell Tring. Whilst not perhaps the strongest vocalist, his performance was always eye-catching and mesmeric.
The third ‘little maid’ Hebe Flo played by Richard Russell Edwards was well-used throughout and created some excellent comedy moments.
David McKechnie’s strong performance as Mr Cocoa, wielding a cricket bat in place of a sword and with a variable cockney accent, held proceedings together, with a tone of voice well-suited to the traditional ‘patter’ role. The ‘list’ number felt a little minimal, and surely missed the point by not including any political references.
Act One kept the action moving and lived up to the expectations of the cheering audience with the constant stream of visual comedy and innuendo.
Christopher Hewitt as Kitty Shaw was one of the highlights of the evening. Echoing the Wicked Witch of the West arriving on a period bicycle with basket, the actor was given full opportunity to display his magnificent contralto tone.
Act Two was perhaps less successful than Act One. This contains some of Sullivan’s most beautiful trios, quartets and a quintets, and it felt as though the expectation to only focus on the comedy was the reason to cut or shorten these numbers.
The arrival of The Mikado himself (Lewis Kennedy) carried aloft on shoulders and sporting several hats to elevate his importance was greeted with many cheers. The unexpected Geordie accent caused further mirth, and perhaps confirmed we were indeed ‘up north’. Again, some bass tones to the voice would have given some greater vocal contrast to the evening and underpinned his number with greater authority.
The talented cast did a sterling job with the harmonies throughout, (the female numbers really do take your breath away) and all-credit to Musical Director Anto Buckley for the full and lively piano accompaniment throughout.
Sasha Regan’s experienced director’s hand ensured the evening was high on energy, fun and entertainment, with every comedy seam mined for all it was worth. She continues to open up opportunities for newly-qualified actors, featuring interviews with them in the informative programme and promoting them on the publicity material.
Whether you are a G&S aficionado appreciating the imaginative and clever adaptation, or know nothing of the original but want an evening of fun and laughter, don’t hesitate to buy a ticket for this excellent production.
Review by Sheila Arden
The Mikado plays at Wilton’s Music Hall until 1st July before touring for the rest of the month. You can find out more on their website.