21st January 2016
Nuffield Theatre, Southampton
Type of Production
Fiona Willsher (Conductor Martin Paterson)
Author: Stuart Ardern
It would not surprise me if one of the highest costs for this production was the make-up. All of the cast had a full-face oval of white make-up with a distinct border to give the impression of a Japanese Noh Theatre mask. The members of the ladies chorus wore identical wigs and patterned kimonos, the men wore plain kimonos; only the principals were differentiated by costume. There was a single set (from Scenery Solutions) with a raised area upstage, backed by a Japanese building with a massive door. Martin Whitaker’s lighting set the whole thing off superbly; it was stylish without being obtrusive. The sound was excellent, with a good balance between the stage and the eight-piece band in the pit; the diction and pace from the cast mean that all of the spoken lines came across very clearly, making the most of Gilbert’s word-play (worthwhile, since this is a show that added at least two expressions to the English language).
The production brought out the comedy of the piece in many different ways. Pooh-Bah (Jonathan Fulcher) wore a look of deep disdain when he removed the trombone from Nanki-Poo (Matthew Pike). When Ko-Ko (Roger Lamb) entered, he wore round spectacles, the lenses of which were of the thickness of the bottom of jam jars. The fierce Katisha (Tina Adams) was accompanied by her pet Komodo dragon (ridden by Sophie Lipscomb). In the opening sequence of the second act (Braid the Raven Hair), a group of the dancing ladies wore costumes that were on one side shoulder to toe in black and the other side shoulder to toe in white. The colours were reversed for alternate dancers, so that for each pair black was against black and white against white. The result was that when the adjacent legs of adjacent dancers were raised it created the optical illusion of a pair of white legs (or a pair of black) in mid air. (This is very hard to describe but absolutely hilarious to watch.)
I enjoyed the singing throughout. I couldn’t find a programme credit for whoever updated Ko-Ko’s ‘little list’, but they made a fine job of it (including references to Jeremy Clarkson and Donald Trump amongst others). Three Little Maids is really too short; I could listen to those harmonies for a lot longer. The maids - Caroline Taylor, Katy Lewis and Sophie Barnard - made a fine play of being giggling schoolgirls. Caroline Taylor (Yum-Yum) has the annoying habit of making superb singing look absolutely effortless. Her solo ‘The sun, whose rays are all ablaze’ came with a visual bonus in the form of a ballet from Abi Jeffery, rising at the back of the stage as ‘the moon's celestial highness’. The madrigal ‘Brightly dawns our wedding day’ was accompanied by a small chorus of handbell ringers. (“Why aren’t they wearing gloves?” muttered the handbell ringer next to me.) Roger Lamb demonstrated the difference that inflection makes to meaning. Responding to ‘The flowers that bloom in the spring’ the expression in his voice was at one with the words - he really didn’t want to have anything to do with such happy trivialities.
This was an excellent production. It sounded good, it looked good and it didn’t just provoke a wry smile: it was laugh-out-loud funny.