Helen Wallace reviews Gilbert & Sullivan
Photo: (l-r) Rachael Lloyd, Mary Bevan and Fiona Canfield (c) Sarah Lee
Was there ever so deliriously silly a production of The Mikado? The curtain first went up on Jonathan Miller’s pristine white 1930s spa hotel in 1986: in 2012 it dazzles afresh. The ‘little list’ has, of course, been updated: new victims include George Entwistle (‘Oh, yes, greed is on the list’), Nadine Dorries, Président Hollande, David Cameron (for his ‘all in it together-ness’) and Elton John for increasing the size of ‘his litter’.
‘We are gentleman from Japan,’ announce the group of supercilious, mustachioed gentlemen in accents out of a Nancy Mitford novel. Miller effortlessly trades off the joke in every scene (‘But this letter is in Japanese!’ gasps a confounded Ko-Ko.) He covers the whole gamut of post-colonial delusion, from casual racism to blissful Brits-abroad ignorance with the coolest of winks.
Photo: Richard Angus (c) Sarah Lee
Soprano Mary Bevan is a luscious, Celia Johnson-style Yum-Yum, with tenor Robert Murray a well-fed Nanki-Poo, complete with designer patches on his Saville Row blazer. There’s an ardent quality to his tenor, which works a treat here, together with his amiable haplessness. Rachael Lloyd is a beautifully bossy Pitti Sing, and her plummy mezzo adds glamour. Baritones Donald Maxwell and Richard Suart slip back into the roles of Poo-Bah and Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko with relish, Suart giving a masterclass in comic timing. His is an irresistible descent from dapper A-lister back to seedy tailor with a sinister streak of Osborne’s Entertainer. He’s a joy, particularly in his scenes with mezzo Yvonne Howard’s formidable – and touching – Katisha. He can also sing, which is more than could be said for the role’s first inhabitant, Eric Idle.
The ENO orchestra under David Parry play it straight, as they should, making of each absurd aria, from ‘Tit Willow’ to the ‘Sun and I’, a polished gem. The troupe of breathlessly puppyish tap-dancing bell boys and chamber maids complete the evening.
As for the late Stefanos Lazaridis’s set, it should be on prescription for sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Beg, borrow or steal tickets…
English National Opera's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Mikado' is on until 31 January 2013