Ah The Mikado, perhaps the best known of Gilbert & Sullivan’s once ubiquitous operettas but now, like it’s kin all too often consigned to dusty church halls and sneered at by the theatrical cognoscenti.
Thankfully the fine folks at Humdrum have a unique talent for breathing new life into otherwise somewhat staid pieces and here they strip away the conical straw hats, the geisha make up and the elaborate costuming and reveal that hidden beneath it all is a show that stands up surprisingly well by modern standards.
As the lights dim in the cosy confines of The Spring we’re facing a set that is almost Brechtian in it’s simplicity. There are three pieces of coloured cloth and a box. Similarly the cast are wearing black trousers and shoes and attired in a shirt reflecting their status (white for commoner, red for nobleman and black for royalty). It’s simple, it’s fresh and it serves to ensure the audience aren’t distracted from the performances themselves.
We soon discover that the wandering second-trombonist Nanki-Poo has returned to the village of Titipu to propose to his true love Yum-Yum. The interplay between Matthew Cooper and Lara Hardwick forms the centrepiece of all that follows, their relationship seeming completely natural despite the lunacy surrounding it. Cooper in particular sings beautifully while Hardwick has a knack for comic timing that blossoms during perhaps the best known number “Three Little Maids From School” where, alongside Karen Fisher as the ever-eager Pitti-Sing and the perpetually underwhelmed Peep-Bo (played with relish by Gemma Valler)she sets the scene for her forthcoming marriage to her ward Ko-ko, the Lord High Executioner.
Ko-ko is at the centre of the funny business and is played with sneering charm by Darren Gilmore, with Pooh-Bah, his many-titled subservient perpetually in tow. Director James George stepped in midway through rehearsals to play Pooh-Bah and it’s a move that pleases us as we could listen to him sing all day long. Playing up to the campness of the script George bounces off Gilmore, each provoking a bigger laugh than the last and the two are equalled by Alistair Smyth who makes the most of the underwritten Pish-Tush.
With a compact chorus who seem to be in a perpetual state of organised chaos (special note to Lin Warner who provokes a number of laughs), a preening performance from Janet Hillman as Katisha and a wonderful comic turn from Paul Comparini as The Mikado himself there is so much more here than we ever expected. Add in a few witty lyrical rewrites and you’re in for a rare treat if you grab yourself a ticket. Do so quick though, if last night was anything to go by they’re selling fast!