David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Culture
Theatre proprietors tend to grow morose at this time of year. Long-faced and ill-tempered, they shuffle gloomily through dwindling receipts, dreaming up increasingly desperate marketing ploys and performing secret rain dances in the confines of their offices. Understandably, most punters would rather watch the sun go down while quaffing a tall drink than head for a darkened room to watch a play. The exceptions to this portrait of sun-drenched doom are the managers of summer seasons. Holiday-makers throng to Blackpool and the like in search of sun and fun, plus the promise of a good night out with Cilla Black or one of the Nolan Sisters.

Summer is a lousy time for drama. It's a case of accentuate the positive which, in West End terms, translates as grade A frivolity. Which brings us to The Hot Mikado, which despite advance sneers about "good taste", is a cracking night out. Under Nick Richings's super-saturated (never- use-a-warm-glow-when-you-can-go-all-out-with-surprise-pink) lighting, the zoot-suited cast belt out Gilbert and Sullivan's hit with the zest and drive missing from Jonathan Miller's arch version trotted out with astonishing regularity by English National Opera.

Terminally staid audience-members spend a large part of the first half trying to convince themselves that they're not enjoying it. Only hardened cynics can fail to be won over by Ross Lehman's glorious Sgt Bilko-esque Lord High Executioner while Alison Jiear's voice is so hot, you'd have to call the Fire Brigade to put it out. Aretha Franklin, you may retire.

Undaunted by this season of light entertainment, Burning Blue (below) is transferring to the Theatre Royal Haymarket after selling-out at the King's Head. It has no stars and no tap routines but, with a plotline about military tensions and sexuality, it's certainly a hot potato. Last week Old Times came triumphantly into town. Is the serious play staging a comeback?

'The Hot Mikado', Queen's Theatre, Shaftesbury Ave, London W1 (0171- 494 5040). 'Burning Blue', Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London SW1 (0171- 930 8800)

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