Making its premiere in the late 19th Century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado had witnessed the 2nd longest run in the Savoy Theatre’s history up until that time period. At least 150 companies within Europe and America had produced the opera, showing a demand for the opera within the west. Based in Titipu, Japan, the idea was to satirise British Politics by ‘othering’; placing the narrative in a distant land – a concept we now recognise as highly offensive due to the creators’ lack of knowledge of Japanese culture. Cue the English National Opera’s take on the well known opera, a focus more so on the satirisation of politics and the upper classes.
Introducing their first ever relaxed performance, ENO aim to increase accessibility, bringing the 19th century classic to contemporary audiences. Before the matinee begins, we’re informed by Richard Stuart, playing Ko-Ko, of The Mikado‘s synopsis, as well as the fact that 50 members will grace the stage, and over 90 creatives work behind the scenes. Incredible to take in and informs us all of the grand scale on which ENO operate on. Conductor Chris Hopkins gives us all a brief music lesson, something I personally find useful as he breaks down the various sections of an orchestra and gives each section a moment to shine individually.
ENO are successful in their promoting of an easy going atmosphere, audience members are informed that they can leave and return to the auditorium whenever they choose, and can visit chill out areas if they are in need of some peace and quiet. Initiatives like this are crucial for encouraging new audiences to attend the theatre, so well done to ENO for embracing it. The relaxed notion of the performance most definitely adapts to our age of inclusivity, but the show itself feels out of touch. Although the late Jonathon Miller and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall draw on modern political references, the placing of the show within Japan within the text rather than adapt to a UK location makes the afternoon feel antiquated, we’re in different times now and therefore the text needs to reflect this. The afternoon offers an insight into a world of the elite – conversations on powerful partnerships for social status and strategising amongst themselves, especially within the world of politics highlights their reality. It feels part history lesson, part sociology lesson – an insight into a world unfamiliar to myself.
Anthony Van Laast and revival choreographer Carol Grant‘s big and bold jazz numbers successfully transport all to a golden age of Hollywood style mythical reality, Stefanos Lazaridis‘ imperial art nouveau setting further brings all an upper class reality our cast live in. The Mikado‘s score is jovial, big, upbeat; its aim to highlight a sense of pomposity and grandeur. There’s a pantomime-eqsue feeling also about the afternoon, characters feel like caricatures, and there’s even a part of the production where the audience are encouraged to sing a long. Miller captures the show’s comedic and satirical air, the various love dilemmas that cause meetings and conflicts. The interactions between characters however feel drawn out, once relationships are established, dialogue still tends to go on, and this impacts on narrative and pacing. 2/5
Review written by Lucy Basaba.
The Mikado will show until Saturday 30th November 2019 at the English National Opera. To find out more about the production, visit here…