Step forward all those who remember the original Carl Rosa Company. No? Well, the name is alive and well, and, under the auspices of Raymond Gubbay, presenting Gilbert and Sullivan at the Gielgud. It's a cosy idea, actually – the way things were in a head-on collision with the way things are. G&S were nothing if not topical, and the really charming thing about this show is that its strong sense of period is peppered with a contemporary knowingness.
No one would have thought – least of all G&S – that there'd be two Mikados running simultaneously in the West End. But Jonathan Miller's dashing English National Opera production is poised to return yet again to the Coliseum; there's even a gag to that effect in this Peter Mulloy staging.
It begins as it means to go on, with a fleeting glimpse of times past. During the overture, illuminated like an old moving picture through the front cloth, three formally attired Victorian ladies are seen going through the motions of their Japanese fan technique. The point is well made: the English are fannying about at being Japanese.
Framed in the cute, cut-out Victorian sets and colourful, well-made costumes that we're told originated from Mike Leigh's film Topsy-Turvy, this most enjoyable evening, though a far cry from Miller's rather more camp take on the piece, still manages to do what he did so successfully – namely to laugh with and not at it. Mulloy and company prove yet again that if you trust the arch English manner of Gilbert's dialogue, then the laughs you get will prove all the more genuine. Of course, there are the appropriate updates to Ko-Ko's "little list" of potential executionees, and Fenton Gray (standing in for Eric Roberts) gives ENO's Richard Suart a run for his money with a terrific, frantic study in self-preservation. There's a cracking dig at hi-tech gadgetry, culminating in the punchline: "To think that all this useless junk was made here in Japan!"
Alistair McGowan's deliciously haughty Mikado gets a whole new set of topical lyrics for his blood-lusty "A More Humane Mikado", and his "daughter-in-law elect" – the intimidating Katisha – is devoured by Nichola McAuliffe. Sullivan's bountiful score is lovingly attended by a compact, agile band led by Martin Handley, whose tempi are as sharp as Ko-Ko's "snickersnee". It's like being back at the Savoy – only at the Gielgud.
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