Cut from a very different cloth - Features - Music - The Independent

Cut from a very different cloth

Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado gets a fashion makeover, with a little help from the Opera Babes

The Opera Babes are to star in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado that has the designers Versace and Jean Paul Gaultier as its inspiration. Mounted by Opera della Luna, a company known for its humour and which has been performing Gilbert and Sullivan since 1994, The Mikado tells the tale of a poor tailor, Ko-Ko, who is unexpectedly made Lord High Executioner of Titipu - and proceeds to dress everyone in extraordinary garments.

It was in 1885 that Gilbert costumed his new "Japanese" opera with oriental fabrics from Liberty's, and caused a stir. But now, the director Jeff Clarke hopes to breathe some new life into the Gilbert and Sullivan classic.

The first half of the operetta is set in a swish fashion house, where Ko-Ko is not so much an ordinary tailor as a Gaultier-type fashion designer, bedecked in sarongs and kilts. For "Three Little Maids from School", a big number in the show, the Opera Babes and Louise Crane are dressed as schoolgirls, and deport themselves as though they are models on a fashion photo shoot.

"I wear a ballgown cut off around the thigh, platform shoes, and a bright pink wig sticking out all over the place," says one Opera Babe, Rebecca Knight, who plays Yum-Yum, Ko-Ko's would-be wife. "A lot of Gilbert and Sullivan fans prefer the shows to be very traditional, but this is a more flamboyant and wacky version."

Choreographed by Jenny Arnold, who has just finished working on Jerry Springer - The Opera at the National Theatre, this production of The Mikado is fast and energetic, and it has been harder for Knight's fellow Opera Babe, Karen England, who plays Patti Sing, friend to Yum-Yum says Knight.

"She had to learn to tap dance! In this show, we are very much individuals, which makes a change from doing opera in duet form and wearing similar outfits."

The Opera Babes were discovered in spring 2001 while busking at Covent Garden Tube station. A matter of weeks later, they found themselves singing "Abide With Me" on the pitch before the FA Cup Final, and signing a six-figure record contract. Since then it has been one prestigious event after another. So why Gilbert and Sullivan?

"It's one thing singing in front of 15,000 people at the Royal Albert Hall, with a massive orchestra, but it is also a good feeling to do something provincial for a change. I missed theatre," says Knight, who actually played Yum-Yum in Opera della Luna's last production of The Mikado, five year's ago.

"Usually, we don't have time. We have just been to Beirut to do our first-ever Opera Babes show - with lasers and lights and fabulous dancers. And then we go to Jerusalem to film an ITV documentary about Easter and biblical women."

Greenwich Theatre, London SE10 (0208-858 7755; www; greenwichtheatre.org.uk) 21-25 October

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