Based on The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan
Book and Lyrics adapted by David H. Bell
Music adapted and arranged by Rob Bowman
Director: Robert McWhir
Reviewer: Christopher Owen
The Public Reviews Rating:
Hot Mikado is a jazzed up version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. It fuses jazz rhythms, big band sounds, close vocal harmonies and scat singing to liven up one of G+S’s most loved scores for modern audiences. This production at Clapham’s Landor Theatre zips along with a strong sense of pace and an infectious enthusiasm, but one which isn’t quite controlled enough.
When the heir to the Mikado’s throne Nanki-Poo disguises himself as a second saxophonist in a big band and goes touring to escape his intended, he falls in love with the delightful Yum-Yum but unfortunately for him, she is already promised to The Lord High Executioner. When the Mikado orders a beheading to take place to maintain the status of the place, Nanki-Poo commits himself to die as he cannot have his true love, not necessarily to everyone’s delight. What follows is a frantic, often farcical tale of misdirection, deceit, splashed with romantic comedy and a gorgeous score which tickles the light opera taste buds as well as giving goosebumps with the tight harmonies on display.
Directed by Robert McWhir, the name behind so many wonderful productions at this fringe theatre, the show begins being performed as a radio play, complete with ‘applause’ prompts galore. Eventually after the (rather confusing) foundations of the plot have been laid, the radio theatre gradually dissolves to leave us with the cast now playing the normal parts in the show. With names like Pish-Tush, Pitti-Sing, Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum the characters can be hard to remember until there are less of them on stage. On the whole, the cast are more than capable to deliver this style of show though, and the ensemble keep their vocals tight and display an impressive level of chemistry across the board.
Nathaniel Morrison lends his seemingly ever increasing range to the multi-skilled Pooh-Bah (the chancellor/bishop/judge and more depending on the scene) and riffs accurately but still with a good level of humour, whilst the adorable Victoria Farley is an utter delight as the sought-after Yum-Yum. She has the look to play Nelly Forbush in South Pacific, but on this occasion balances her voice beautifully between the softer The Sun and I and the more up tempo sections in other numbers and scats impressively. Ian Mowat takes a little while to get used to, but ultimately gets the audience’s sympathy as Ko-Ko as he gurns comically through his lighter numbers.
Whilst this production of Hot Mikado is largely very entertaining, there are some misfires though. The show is less big band and more ‘small band’ owing to only three musicians on display (but five noted in the programme). With a show as jazzed up as this it really needed more instrumental oomph to back up the talent onstage, and due to this the sound felt emptier than it should at times. And frequently throughout the evening, the show seemed messy and under rehearsed – often with too many voices on stage competing to be heard, meaning notes sounded flat and off key. Whilst part of the impact of the show is in the vocal power, in a space this intimate anyone behind the actor in the front row can often get lost. Musical cues and dance moves were missed, but this will surely tighten up in time as the run progresses, to produce a more focused performance.