2012 – The Hot Mikado

Director/Choreographer Kirsty Smith

Musical Director Brian ‘Tommy’ Thomas

Costumes Liz Milway

Set design Pattie Jones

photos by Timothy R Winn

Cambridge Student Review by Hugo Schmidt

A clever re-imagining that puts Gilbert & Sullivan’s classic in a club of the Roaring Twenties (recurring joke: “This is in Japanese. Wait a minute, we are in Japan!”), ‘Hot Mikado’ spills over with the spirit of the duo in a blaze of primary colours. Quite literally: the entire cast comes colour coded. The native residents of Titipu are dressed in zoot-suits and flapper dresses of bright red, orange, green and blue (in homage to the original kimonos of Japan), while the out-of-towners have distinctly more muted tones; meanwhile the Mikado (Rich Evans) himself is kitted out in the black suit and suspenders of a mob-boss.

Many of the dances and some of the songs are similarly updated, some apparently by the Festival Players themselves (in ‘Let the Punishment Fit the Crime”, there are some decidedly irreverent lyrics about our coalition government); yet this was done with sufficient skill to fit directly into the justly famous word-play and humour.

However, there was one major difficulty in this production: although the band, who were included on the set in a classic cabaret setting, played well, moving between the original score to the jazz as smoothly as the D’Oyly Carte, someone in the sound department must have slipped up. In the first act the music was often so loud that the singers’ lyrics became unintelligible. This simply will not do; a Gilbert and Sullivan production stands or falls by the audience becoming caught up in the puns and raunchy humour, and it is a great shame that much of the players’ flawless performance was drowned out. Fortunately somebody managed to correct this for the second half, allowing for a real treat in Katisha and Ko-Ko’s duet. Singing and choreography generally was top-notch; I looked for the dropped note and muffed gesture and failed to find it.

‘Hot Mikado’ is no place for artistic restraint, so it’s good to find none, but the cast still resisted the temptation to go too far. The love isosceles between Nanki Poo (Ismael Clark), Ko-Ko (Alastair Horne) and Yum-Yum (Toni Grantham) had the ideal pantomime absurdity, with the right dash of emotion to prevent it being either foolish or mawkish. Another performance worthy of mention was that of Warren Clark as Pooh-Bah; as inheritor of all the non-Executioner titles, from Archbishop to Chancellor of the Exchequer, he handled his role with deadpan delivery that drew howls of laughter from the audience.

All in all, a very fine piece of work, and I recommend it highly, especially if they get someone to sort out that sound system.

Combinations Review by Julie Petrucci

Based on one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular operas THE MIKADO was given the “hot” treatment by David Bell and Rob Bowman in the 1980s and keeps all the original songs and characters – it is just upbeat with the setting moved from Japan to what looked like an American Speakeasy. It was all great fun and sort of Bugsy Malone(ish). Purists of G&S may not approve but this production by Festival Players was excellent.

The set design by PATTI JONES was fabulous and lighting designers EDDY LANGLEY and ROB LOXLEY deserve a curtain call all their own for their design. Once again the ever talented LIZ MILWAY came up with superb and colourful costumes. Visually this production was stunning.

Musically too TOMMY THOMAS and his musicians were really on form handling the many different styles and arrangements well, if sometimes slightly loudly. It was nice to see the musicians on stage all looking very smart set high above the actors. It made a change from just seeing tops of heads and instruments peeping over the pit.

The Citizens of TITIPU all did a marvellous job and remained in character as background actors whilst principal scenes went on around them. Their interaction was consistent without being intrusive and the enthusiasm and enjoyment in their ensemble numbers was a pleasure to watch. Great use was made of entrances and exits up and down the staircase and every inch of the stage and forestage was used.

We saw some good strong performances from the nine principals. ALASTAIR HORNE as Ko-Ko was as good as it gets, RICH EVANS made a very energetic and versatile Mikado and ISHMAEL ROMEO CLARK made an impressive Nanki-Poo. CHIP COLQUHOUN (Pish-Tush), DAVINA DENHAM (Peep-Bo) and RACHEL JARMY (Pitti-Sing) all gave good performances in the smaller principal roles, whilst TONI GRANTHAM (Yum-Yum) did her very best not to be outshone by the men. However, two principal performances really stood out for me: one was WARREN CLARK excellent as Pooh-Bah minister of everything and the other RACHEL BYE who was the most wonderful Katisha; an absolutely superb performance.

Festival Players took a big risk with this show running it for ten days over the Diamond Jubilee weekend but it certainly paid off artistically. Many congratulations to director KIRSTY SMITH for some great directing and excellent choreography. This was, once again, a first class Festival Players’ production, keeping up the tradition set over the last few years of presenting more modem musicals.