Richmond Theatre, London – until 27 May 2017
Producer Sasha Regan of the Union Theatre developed a nice line in all-male versions of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas: an inventive Harry Potter-ish Iolanthe reprised in the gloriously ramshackle Wilton’s Music Hall was joined by a boisterous Pirates of Penzance and a homoerotic HMS Pinafore. Sadly, applying her formula to The All-Male Mikado just doesn’t work: it fails to illuminate the plot or the period cleverly and if the men don’t kiss properly, what’s the point made by the gender bending?
Advance publicity suggested a setting in the style of Enid Blyton and there’s some nifty stagecraft with three boy scout tents, but with martial choreography, long limbs and high-waisted shorts this crew felt more Hitler Youth than Famous Five, with colonial props and touches of orientalism like a side order of It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum.
One electronic keyboard isn’t adequate for ‘the brass will clash and the trumpets bray’ and however hard musical director Richard Baker trills and twiddles to embroider the piano line and support his singers, you just yearn for the varied instruments of the Titipu town band – even a bit of onstage actor-musicianship would have been a relief.
The vocal harmonies are often lovely, sometimes a cappella to give Baker a moment’s respite but much of the solo singing disappoints. Although Alan Richardson has a gift for comic coquetry, is making quite a career of G&S heroines and Mary Sunshine in Chicago and hits his notes loud and clear, others are less precise and so much Hilda Bracketty falsetto just grates after the first hour.
The casting is quite uneven – the boys playing boys are usually better than the boys playing boys playing girls, but when Richardson’s Yum-Yum says to Richard Munday‘s uninspired Nanki-Poo ‘I knew you weren’t a musician’, half the audience sighed in agreement.
Giving Pish-Tush and Pooh-Bah Welsh/Scottish accents to differentiate them suggests it’s not being achieved in the characterisations, and making David McKechnie‘s Ko-Ko a spivvy mockney tailor anchors the part in Whitechapel saps his undoubted energy and limits the levels on which he can engage the audience. Given how vivid the political landscape is at the moment, his ‘little list’ came over as feeble and completely lacking in topicality.
I’ve said this lots of times before but you can’t spoof a spoof – when written in 1885 The Mikado was already a parody, satirising British Imperial politics and institutions by transposing them to a fictionalised Japan, and lampooning the fashion for orientalism.
You have to be pretty determined to cock up Gilbert and Sullivan’s funniest and most tuneful piece. But they do.