The Mikado

Date 8th May 2019
Society East Norfolk Operatic Society
Venue Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich
Type of Production G&S
Director Nona Gray
Musical Director Simon Shirley


Author: Terry Rymer

First of all, Congratulations to ENOS on their 60th Anniversary, no mean achievement, and what better way to celebrate than to replicate their very first show ‘The Mikado’ (in 1959), which is probably the most performed, in many guises and eras, of the G and S portfolio.

I do find it a trifle strange that lyricist Mr W. S. Gilbert suggests that this piece is set in Japan to allow satirisation of British politics and institutions. (Hmm, I am not sure what aspect of British politics was pertinent at that time?) However don’t let history stand in the way of a good, if whimsical tale… He told a Journalist of the time that it “afforded scope for picturesque treatment scenery and costume!...”

Now those that have read my previous reviews will see how justifiably proud ENOS are of their sets and indeed the team who create them. Here we had a minimal set of undoubted quality, but totally depicted by two Oriental scenes of nicely painted backdrops with volcanoes and exotic birds…It set the scene, but this show I would suggest, begs more detailed scene settings and possibly a few more props to convey the story.

However the whole G and S experience is one of vocal prowess and chorus support which we had here in bucket loads. The overture from the small but well balanced orchestra, with a new (to ENOS) MD, were well appreciated and suitably applauded; but could we perhaps have had some  small distraction involving the chorus, who in the past have provided some interesting activities to supplement quite long overtures? However the male chorus made an impressive entrance and stole the show for almost the first half hour. Telling us ‘If You want to know who We are’. How fortunate ENOS are, having such a strong range of male voices, who clearly relished their important role, many of whom could and would be capable of  taking leading roles (as  some have already!). Equally matched by a bevy of lovely ladies traditionally dressed to supplement and complement  the action as required. Super harmonies from the whole male and female chorus.

Lead roles were as ever superbly cast, with Nanki-Poo (Thomas Monument) carrying both the flag, and a lute (or was it a ‘second’ trombone?) as he confidently traversed the country to the town of Titipu. He was every inch the ‘lost soul’ in love. He gave an immaculate performance and vocal  contribution, initially thwarted in love, and then faced with an unanswerable dilemma as his would be lover, the well named Yum-Yum (Rachel Goodchild), the irresistible target of his emotions, was already betrothed to her Ward. She never fails to please and was strong in style and voice forming a key part of the ‘Three Little Maids From School’, with Pitti-Sing (Evie Plunkett),and Peep-Bo (Julie Weston), and also with those two and Pooh-Bah (Andy Weston), as they gave a  wonderful rendition of ‘So please you sir we much regret’. These three ladies formed a formidable trio in the vocal department throughout with some really outstanding songs and harmonies … The story is built around the dilemma of the self appointed Pooh-Bah, who with no hint of hypocrisy, has awarded himself all the key roles of State except one, that of Lord High Executioner. To add a total distraction from the seemingly tragic circumstances we had the irrepressible ‘charms’ of the now Lord High Executioner,  Ko-Ko, (Edmund Ramsdale) adding more than a touch of necessary humour, working every single moment, to first relish and then regret the seemingly insurmountable ruling decrees of the Mikado that they must behead someone to gain his approval! So a plot is hatched to pretend Nanki-Poo has been beheaded! (shortened version!). There was more will they/can they marry, and if so will Yum Yum be buried alive when he is beheaded in a month!!

As  Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and Noble Lord Pish-Tush (Martin Dyer) seemingly victorious provide a trio in ‘I am so proud’, The Company enter to lead us to ‘coffee’ suitably downbeat ‘With aspect stern and gloomy stride’!

Act Two is no less complicated with rules confused and roles disputed, surely someone has to lose their head! We had weddings and woes of love unrequited or at least delayed!  Some super vocals, each one a gem … But… enter the imposing Mikado (Clive Swetman). ! With him is a seemingly ‘ugly’ older woman. They gave us a moving rendition of ‘Mi-ya-sa-ma’, (sorry no translation!). He  explains he is seeking his son Nanki –Poo…Oops ! He it seems, ‘escaped’ to avoid marriage to this woman, the  shrew like Katisha (Teresa Clayton), or was she? Hers was a duplicitous role of femme fatal as with a wicked smile, she shows there is more to her than meets the eye…striking a blow for the ‘older woman’! Mind you as Nanki-Poo would surmise…marriage to her would be a life sentence one way or another! She had a lovely vocal ‘Glee’ with Pitti-Sing, Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and The Mikado and later with a solo ‘Alone, and yet alive’.

You just know that with G and S, a convoluted tale will end happily, well for most anyway, Katisha marries Ko-Ko, (Khama!), and he gave us the iconic Willow  song ‘On a tree by a river a little Tom –Tit’… altogether now, ‘Tit Willow..Tit Willow..Tit Willow!’ The second act was far more ‘active and dramatic’ allowing characters to interact and release their true feelings and of course Nanki-Poo marries Yum-Yum ! (Justice!).

This Mikado was something just a trifle different for ENOS but overall it was a show to be proud of in their 60th year…and in attendance were three of the original ‘Little Maids’ who were pleased to meet their contemporaries and be assured that G and S, at least with East Norfolk, is in safe hands! Onward and Upwards! Thanks for a great evening, it is always a pleasure.