The story is, as with all G+S, totally preposterous. Nanki-Poo, the son of the ruling Mikado of Japan, loves Yum-Yum but a marriage has been arranged for him with the vile looking Katisha. Yum-Yum on the other hand is betrothed to Ko-Ko who has been condemned to death for flirting. Ko-Ko has, nevertheless, been elevated to the position of Lord High Executioner and his destiny is to behead himself. Then there is Pooh-Bah who holds every authority position in the town of Titipu except for that of the Mikado himself. Nanki-Poo disguises himself as a wandering minstrel and the fun begins.
This production is a peculiar mix of something that feels like a throw-back to imagined versions of the early part of the twentieth century and an attempt to bring it, dragging and screaming, into the modern day. Performances are static, staid and sterile and the songs are delivered with little choreography or awareness of developments in the conventions, conceits and practices of contemporary musical theatre. Yet, on occasion, the production surprises by updating many of the original lyrics penned by the illustrious Mr. Gilbert. In particular “I’ve Got a Little List” in the first half and the Mikado’s big number “The Punishment Fits the Crime” in the second half transcend the dullness of the rest of the production and are genuinely funny.
The biggest problem lies in the rather prosaic attempt to re-envision a production that sees a sizeable light operetta with principals and chorus cut down into something for a handful of performers only. The orchestra, too, is reduced to contain only seven players. The lack of a full sound both on stage and in the pit is hard to ignore. Having no conductor allows for a slight roughness around the edges of songs. The set for the first half looks like it has been touring for a number of years. The second half looks and sounds better. Overall, though, the lack of resource is all too obvious and there is a lack of imagination to cover the deficiency. Bizarrely, for a production that has been touring for a reasonable length of time, there is insecurity in knowing the spoken lines.
The performers split into two camps. As it happens the contrast falls across the gender divide. The women are operatically trained whilst the men have emerged through the musical theatre route. They are very different disciplines and the differences show. Of the first camp, Victoria Joyce makes a good job of Yum-Yum although her sung lyrics are often indistinct. Poor Louise Crane has the unenviable job of being both one of the three little maids from school and the Gorgon Katisha. John Griffiths shows his experience and class as The Mikado and Pish-Tush whilst Tim Walton as Nanki-Poo sings nicely but is under-energised in the spoken sections. Carl Sanderson’s Pooh-Bah owes much to the Panto Dame tradition but he belts out the numbers with gusto and wrings maximum value out of his text.
Come the end, however, Gilbert and Sullivan have woven their habitual magic and the production, despite its flaws and its occasional longeurs, has the audience clapping along, cheering and demanding more.