Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
A Right Rollicking Romp of Romantic Rhyme
Although not the first written of the fourteen joint operatic collaborations of Sir Arthur Sullivan and Sir William Gilbert (in fact ninth) The Mikado is certainly first in the public's affections. From its opening in 1885, it has never been out of the theatre-goers hearts. It ran for nearly two years in its initial run in London and was revived scarcely a year later.
Brigitte Heuser as Katishal (Photograph by Ma Page)
And it's not hard to understand why. It is a joyous, delightful piece, full of humour and incredibly beautiful music and singing. In turns touching and funny, tuneful and uplifting, the score moves through all the moods.
I have seen The Mikado almost as many times as I have seen The Importance of Being Earnest, it is, after all, one of any company's stock repertoire. I have seen good, great and appalling productions. The very best was Dr Jonathan Miller's in 1986 with the English National Opera and an unlimited budget. In my view, the second best is the current production mounted by the Gilbert and Sullivan Society at the Dolphin Theatre, University of WA.
Brigitte Heuser, Mark Thompson and Marli van der Bijl (Photograph by Ma Page)
Directed by well-known Perth community theatre identity, Paul Treasure, it is pure joy. It was, I think, Dr Miller who first said about The Mikado 'It has nothing to do with Japan, it's the English being silly'. So he set his version in an English 1920's seaside resort, with everyone in impeccable English formal wear of the time.
Paul has done much the same – the costumes (of which more later) are certainly Japanese, but the hair and makeup are contemporary. At least one lady of the chorus was sporting large pastel-framed glasses …. and it makes no difference at all. It is simply one of those things we accept.
Paul has chosen his cast perfectly – altogether very much younger than is usually the case, their energy was phenomenal – their voices far better than one is accustomed to in community musical theatre and their professionalism unquestioned.
The lovely Marli van der Bijl (Photograph courtesy Gilbert and Sullivan Society of WA)
Music was provided by an orchestra of about thirty under the baton of Dr Georg Corall and such was their musicality that they received a separate huge round of applause for completing the overture.
I won't go into the plot which is convoluted and really not that important, although very funny in its own right, concerning death, love, marriage, wards (not in Chancery for once) elderly ugly spinsters and absolutely fabulous tongue-twisting dialogue and lyrics.
The costumes, by Wardrobe Mistress Veronica Hudson, assisted by Gail Reading, Tanya and Laurel Hill, were sheer perfection. Ko-ko's gown was just breath-taking, so useful, so decorative, so swirly when he turned that it showed exactly how a character can be improved and helped by the right costume. I covet that costume in the worst way to be candid.
And so to the cast. Goodness, it's hard to know where to start – they were uniformly excellent, each working with the others to achieve a pinnacle of art that is very rare.
Brigitte Heuser and Marli van der Bijl (Photograph by Ma Page)
Purely arbitrarily I'd have to say that Mark Thompson (Ko-Ko) was so purely physically challenging as he threw himself all over the stage, so smooth in delivery of the many, many jokes, so unfalteringly on note that he was the stand-out. Except that Marli van der Bijl (Yum-Yum) was so delicious, so funny in her expressions and reaction, so tuneful in her ballads and songs that she must have been the stand-out.
Except that Theodore Murphy-Jelly (Pooh-Bah) was so thoroughly in his part, so grand, made so much of the humour his part affords … or that Brigette Heuser (Katisha) was so lovely in that unattractive part. … or that Belinda Cox (Pitti-Sing) brought humour to the part I'm sure even Gilbert hadn't seen .. or Chad Henderson (Nanki-Poo) or Steve Sherwood (the Mikado) … Oh, I give up.
Perhaps we'll just say this was pretty much the perfect cast, getting the absolute best out of each and any every role that was possible to get, superbly directed and the epitome of what ensemble work should be, including the large choruses of the Ladies and Gentlemen of Japan.
This production makes manifest what I always say when I'm directing 'If you're on stage, you're acting.' At every moment every person on stage was acting, reacting and involved in the action. Not an easy thing to achieve, but seemingly made effortlessly here.
I would single the choreographer out for special mention, as the dancing and crowd work was impressive, but the programme doesn't list one. I suspect Paul, but whoever it was deserves a special round of applause all to themselves.
Overall, an outstanding production of a timeless classic. At this point, I would urge you to go and see it – but the season is completely sold out, so rush now and get on the waiting list, hoping someone will be taken ill.
My sincere congratulations and admiration to all associated with this production and my thanks for a glorious evening's entertainment.