Melissa Blease reviews Sasha Regan’s all male The Mikado on at Theatre Royal Bath until Saturday 22 April
Some might say that Sasha Regan’s all-male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s best-loved light operas define the point where Enid Blyton meets Monty Python. Others may liken them to a version of a pantomime in the style of It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum. Clever people such as the learned friend that accompanied me on this particular trip to the Bath Theatre Royal may decide that they represent the theatrical equivalent of Edward Elgar and Edward Lear’s rather bizarre nullius filius.
But whatever your take on Regan’s world, one thing is certain: she offers us beautifully-produced, highly entertaining, wholly eccentric versions of Very British Theatre at its very, very best.
Having already shaken and stirred traditional perceptions of G&S productions with sell-out, all-male tours of both The Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore, Regan has once again rallied her dancing boys and waved her magic wand over yet another G&S masterpiece, celebrating the start of a national tour in Bath by taking audiences on a virtual trip to the tiny Japanese town of Titipu, where chief executioner Ko-Ko must perform an execution before an impending visit from the Mikado.
Ko-Ko finds a suitable victim in Nanki-Poo, a character we all initially believe to be a lowly wandering minstrel. Nanki-Poo is distraught over his unrequited love for Ko-Ko’s fiancee Yum-Yum; so forlornly lovelorn is he that he agrees to sacrifice his life and submit to execution if Ko-Ko allows him to spend his remaining days with the object of his affections – and the plan rolls into action.
What everybody fails to realise, however, is that the Mikado’s law dictates that the widow of a beheaded man must be buried alive… a lose-lose situation indeed for all concerned, presenting several tricky conundrums to solve before we arrive at the joyful denouement. Ridiculous? Indeed! But no more ridiculous than, say, Aladdin, or The Owl and the Pussycat, or The Life of Brian – and, in this instance and context at least, far, far more fun.
Regan’s adaptation fast-forwards us from 1850s Japan to 1950s England and, rather than using a set that even vaguely attempts to recreate a traditional Far Eastern prefecture, puts us by the campfire in the midst of a collection of tents. Okay, so G&S purists may be cringing a little already. But this production is most definitely not for G&S purists; as we’re just about adjusting to the fact that Nanki-Poo is wearing baggy khaki shorts, a broad-brimmed campaign hat and a woggle rather than a kamishimo, Yum-Yum and her sisters Peep-Bo, Pitti-Sing and a gaggle of schoolgirl friends crash the scene… and there’s not a single actual girl amongst them.
But neither are there any lame attempts to overtly hammer the unique qualities of a Regan production home – her company are surely the most highly-respected virtuosos of the contemporary G&S revival genre, and they’ve arrived at that point without paying lip service to any notion of grotesque, ungainly female impersonator flim-flammery to taint the quality at the heart of the matter; Yum-Yum and her sisters/friends are mistresses of the art of giggling, flirting, swooning, braying and all other aspects of girly goings-on, but there’s not a single clumsy heel, misplaced fluorescent false eyelash, fake boob or badly-fitting frock in sight.
Meanwhile, the action is carried along on a lush musical tide led by musical director Richard Baker and the cast’s vocal abilities are astounding, most notably the schoolgirls’ moment in the Three Little Maids spotlight, Ko-Ko’s Willow Tit Willow and A More Humane Mikado (“to let the punishment fit the crime,” etc) – if it hadn’t been for the disapproval of fellow audience members who clearly didn’t want the cast’s infectious sense of fun to extend as far as the Royal Circle, my guest and I would have happily sung along to all the greatest hits.
Witty, stylish and chaotic in a very carefully choreographed way, Regan’s Mikado is an understatedly camp, deliciously convivial feast of creativity on many levels, produced with a lightness of touch that belies the superb crafting woven into every tiny detail of the production. Boys, it’s good to have you back in town.