The Mikado, Coliseum, London


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The Independent Culture

Little did we realise, when Jonathan Miller unveiled his Art Deco "Mikado" in 1986, that the production would run as long as it has, or that it would be so influential: many shows have paid homage to the heady blend of direction, design, costumes, and choreography achieved by Miller, Stefanos Lazaridis, Sue Blane, and Anthony van Laast.

It’s a banker for ENO, and a perennial reminder that, while flavour-of-the-month young directors come and go, an evergreen talent is still waiting in the wings.

And the plot just gets more topical. "Lord High Everything Else" Pooh-Bah combines the offices of Archbishop, Lord Mayor, Paymaster General, and Lord Chief Justice, and he’ll sell state secrets for a small consideration: if that indicates a general truth now, as it did in 1885, Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko’s little list - updated for each performance – neatly nails specific targets. Meanwhile the crazy logic of Nanki-Poo’s plight – to get his girl he must agree to be beheaded - has timeless appeal.

The show was always strongly cast. My 1986 programme reminds me that Lesley Garrett, Jean Rigby, and Susan Bullock were the inaugural Three Little Maids, with Bonaventura Bottone starting a long run as the mellifluous Nanki-Poo, and Eric Idle creating the role of the tennis-playing Ko-Ko which Richard Suart has gone on to make his own.

The wonder is that the august Richard Angas, who first fleshed out Miller’s benign Al Capone-style emperor, is still playing him inimitably today: he may only make his appearance late in the second act, but he is the rock on which this production is founded.

David Parry’s tempi in the pit are a trifle slow, but there are no weak links in this revival and there’s much to admire, with the ironical interplay between sight-gags and music a constant delight. Mary Bevan’s Yum-Yum sounds a shade too operatic, but she plays off Robert Murray’s mincing Nanki-Poo with irresistible charm.

Yvonne Howard’s Katisha doesn’t have the glorious grotesquerie Frances McCafferty brought to that role, but her taming of Suart’s definitive Ko-Ko is superbly malign; Donald Maxwell’s Northern Pooh-Bah rings absolutely true.

The first night’s little list included Dorries, Bercow, Pippa Middleton, and Leveson plus sundry other sitting ducks, and it got saloon-bar hoots, but the show as a whole walked its tightrope between grand guignol and comedy to perfection.