Directors: Rosie Brear and Joe Williams
Musical Director: William Descrettes
Producer: Lily Cooper
Venue: Drama Barn
Rating: 4 Stars
Attempting to stage a farcical Japanese musical with a cast of fourteen complete with a seven-piece band is hugely ambitious, especially with only six weeks to prepare. However huge congratulations are due to Joe Williams and Rosie Brear along with everyone else involved for pulling it off brilliantly.
The play centres around Nanki-Poo (Tristan Landymore) who comes to the city of Titipu searching for the woman he loves, Yum Yum (Laura Horton). Yum Yum, however, is engaged to Ko-Ko (Max Fitzroy-Stone), and the story revolves around Nanki-Poo overcoming various obstacles, including strict town laws on flirting and threats of execution, in an attempt to be with Yum Yum despite being already married to Katisha (Melissa Layton).
It should already be quite evident that this is not a musical that takes itself too seriously. Choreography included a brief rendition of Gangnam Style, and it made for a hugely entertaining evening.
Visually the show is very engaging. The Drama Barn is painted completely white and adorned with various Japanese stereotypes, and Joshua Robson’s innovative and imaginative lighting design looked fantastic – something strikingly different to most Barn productions. All this was achieved alongside a band on the right hand side of the stage who were brilliant throughout the evening, directed by William Descrettes.
However the highlight of the show has to be the phenomenal performances by the cast. To be able to deliver the hilarious acting performances as well as the incredible vocals in a space as small as the Barn was a real achievement. Additionally, the comic timings were spot on across the evening – jokes landed with precision, however gags weren’t forced where they weren’t needed. A good balance was struck between having a funny show and without saturating it with jokes. The whole cast were highly impressive, however Max Fitzroy-Stone’s performance stood out in particular. His ability to maintain the awkward, squirming nature of Ko-Ko in his musical numbers whilst delivering a great vocal performance was great to watch. In addition, George Morgan and Betty Jones (playing Pooh-bah and Pish Tush respectively) delivered hilarious performances and amazing vocals, as well as two incredible solo performances by Melissa Layton. On occasion, some of the lines of the songs were very much drowned out by the band, which detracted a little from the vocals. However this was always going to be expected in the Barn’s small space and these occurrences were rare.
The choreography in the evening was left fairly simple, nothing too ambitious was attempted. Don’t turn up expecting elaborate dance numbers, but the straight-forward approach works just fine. You could still see strong elements of the characters in the dances, for example Pooh-Bah (George Morgan) maintained a blasé, ‘I’d rather be doing something else’ demeanour while dancing, which was actually very funny to watch. At times the rhythm and timings were off, but then dancing wasn’t the main focus of the evening. Overall it’s not perfect, but the directing by Brear and Williams is excellent, and the limited space was filled well – even with only two characters on stage. At no point in the evening did the action feel flat or dull, it flowed well and musical transitions ran smoothly.
Most importantly however, Hot Mikado makes you smile from start to finish. We’ve had it proved to us time and time again that serious, gritty theatre can be done very well in the Barn. It was hugely refreshing to see something as silly, comical, ridiculous and ambitious as the Hot Mikado, executed so very well.
Go and see it, it’s the most fun in theatre you’ll have all year.