Oh my. The current production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado is about as good as it gets. What creator Jonathan Miller has joined together, let no man (or woman) put asunder. Pinch yourself, folks: after a disappointing summer schedule, the English National Opera is back on track and firing on all cylinders.
Miller’s magical adaptation may be 26 years old but it is hard to find any signs that this is dated. On the contrary, the best elements are still just as joyful.
As the pantomime villain Koko, Richard Suart inhabits the character like a second skin. And so he should: he has performed this role since 1986 and has written a book about it. The set may be blander than a civil servant’s wardrobe but serves as a simpatico backdrop to the suave cream, white and black outfits and a severe contrast to the outlandish farce played upon it. Richard Angas’ Mikado only appears in the second half of this two-and-a-half-hour show but lives long in the memory being essentially the best use of a fat suit in modern entertainment (Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy, take note).
Why is The Mikado still so popular after all this time? Here’s one reason: Koko’s song “I’ve Got A Little List” is regularly updated to feature infamous figures of the moment. This time around ex-BBC Director General George Entwistle is labelled “greedy”, “trial by twitter” is lambasted, the Church of England laity are called “religious misogynists” and celebrity author Pippa Middleton? Well, “her back cover is worth a look".
Moreover, the central themes ring true as much now as they ever did. The idea of an older man in a position of power scheming to get into a schoolgirl’s knickers is not new but has been behind many a recent headline. Nanki-Poo, the hero of the hour, is given a month of bliss before he is to die – those with one eye on the festive season and the other on the Mayan calendar may empathise with his fate.
For fans of operetta, Christmas has come early. For everyone else, here’s an unexpected treat which just may be better than what “Secret Santa” has in store.
The Mikado continues at the Coliseum until Thursday 31 January. More information can be found on the official website.
Photo (c) Alistair Muir