The Mikado

Date 8th March 2019
Society Astwood Bank Operatic Society
Venue The Palace Theatre, Redditch
Type of Production G&S
Director Bev Hatton
Musical Director Mike Dhonau

Report

Author: Andy Brown

134 years since this Gilbert and Sullivan operetta – their ninth – was first seen, judging by the audience, The Mikado or The Town of Titipu has not lost its appeal.

The curtain opened to a lobby area with a delightful 1920’s looking reception desk. The rest of the show featured a minimalist set that occasionally needed pieces of furniture pulling back or removing in order to accommodate the chorus on the stage.

A talented cast of stalwart performers and reassuringly a number of younger members gave accomplished performances. Matthew Street in the role of the wandering minstrel Nanki-Poo who plays second trombone and is in fact the only son of The Mikado in disguise played the part with confidence. This was his first time with the society and his first Gilbert and Sullivan. I am sure we will be seeing him again.

 Another newcomer Beth Smith in her first major role as Yum Yum the ward of KoKo, though in love with Nanki-Poo, provided a delightful interpretation to the role with a lovely singing voice. Again, I am sure she will be seen in future roles. Michael Treagust played the part of The Noble man, Pish Tush with clarity.

Paul Thompson first played the role of Pooh Bar some 56 years ago. Having played the part three times in the past as well as numerous other Gilbert and Sullivan roles, Paul clearly knows the character inside out and was totally credible in dialogue, voice and presence throughout and gave a commanding rendition of, ‘Young man, despair.’

Not until half way through act two do we meet The Mikado himself, played by the President of the society Michael Hawkins. It was worth the wait as here we saw another stalwart who played the role with conviction in acting and voice such as, ‘A More humane Mikado’.   

KoKo the tailor elevated to the post of Lord High Executioner was played with ease, energy and enthusiasm by Ian Walton who was well-cast. He sang his musical numbers including, ‘On a Tree by a River (Tit -willow)’ with feeling and gained the humour from number such as, ‘Here’s a how-de -do’ with other characters. The business with increasingly broken fans was well delivered.  He also had a knack of jumping up from the kneeling position which had to be seen to be appreciated. 

This G&S classic always features eager anticipation from the audience on the expected reworded KoKo’s list. This did not disappoint with society chairman Steve Skinner writing this version. Performing with great character and humour the list included a senior Royal and his driving, senior politicians north and south of the border, world leaders (we can all guess who!) and television celebrities on reality shows. Well done on the result!

Eleanor Peberdy was a force to be reckoned with in appearance and blood thirsty manner as the formidable Katisha. Completing the character line up were KoKo’s remaining wards Jo Hargreaves as Pitti Sing, who was involved in the deception to the Mikado, and Hayley Hemmings as Peep-Bo.

There was a formidable chorus of men to support the opening numbers of the show. The entire chorus executed (is that the wrong word for this show!) their musical numbers well and their combined voices brought about a pleasing sound such as the finale of both acts and during  ‘Mi-ya-sa-ma, Mi-ya-sa-ma’ during which the chorus drown out Katisha and prevent her revealing the true identity of Nanki-Poo.

The set was simple but effective and needed no more. In front of the cyclorama were three large open fans. A few floral displays and some furniture and we had the town of Titipu. The lighting was designed to make best effect of the cyc along with occasional drop spots. The ladies costumes were in keeping with expectation for the period in which the interpretation was set. The principal men costumes were suitable to the character and period. However, some of the men’s chorus looked a bit too modern but this is but a minor detail as they did not take away from the vocals.

The band of 14 worked under the direction of Mike Dhonau who, although a first timer with Astwood Bank, was another Gilbert and Sullivan stalwart. They at no time out balanced the cast members singing.

Thank you for inviting me to The Mikado and providing an enjoyable evening. I not only look forward to the summer concert ‘Mutiny on the Pinafore’ but also to ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ next year.