Theatre Review: The Mikado

The York University Gilbert & Sullivan Society are challenged with updating one of the most politically dated G&S classics. We sent to find out how they managed it

The Mikado. Photo Credit: Carrie Morrison

The operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan are challenging to put on, but always a delight to see performed. The Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of The Mikado is no exception.

A show such as this depends on a good balance between memorable solo performers, a strong chorus, and a reliable accompaniment. This was a production defined by solo performances that absolutely oozed character. Nanki-Poo (Henry Strutt) immediately proved himself worthy of his character’s profession with a charming and refined vocal performance in ‘A wand’ring minstrel I’. Meanwhile, Pooh-Bah (Callam Neville) regularly stole the scene with his confident delivery of an extremely witty character. The bickering sister dynamic of Yum-Yum (Ellen Rhiannon Gardutt), Pitti-Sing (Elizabeth Phippard) and Peep-Bo (Lucy Tee) delightfully amusing, especially Pitti-Sing who added a refreshingly modern female voice to the narrative. Ko-Ko (Alasdair Stroud) naturally took the spotlight, providing physical comedy that made me laugh out loud and a comic sadness that was almost pantomime in effect (the effect being an audible “Awwww”)!

This was a production defined by solo performances that absolutely oozed character.

Xiao Li Wang deserves recognition for her incredible stage presence as Katisha, regularly stealing the spotlight from the other characters on stage, even the Mikado himself (Alfie Talks), and delivering powerful solo and duet performances. The soloists are where the performance really shone, but as the performance continued the chorus section grew progressively stronger and more confident, on more than one occasion producing harmonies that prompted enough applause to drown out the end of the song. The chorus especially shone in the finale of the first act which grew to a very satisfying climax.

The personal musical highlights were ‘Brightly dawns our wedding day’, an impressive quartet with several a cappella sections held together by confident vocal performances, and ‘I am so proud’ which showcased some excellent mastery of Gilbert and Sullivan’s tongue-twisting lyrics, as well as another powerful trio of singers who balanced each other very successfully against the orchestra, conducted by Carlos Zamora. Jennifer Brown’s choreography across the board was simple but effective, matching the medieval set and costume as well as playing off the farcical nature of the story with hilarious results.

Perhaps the dialogue would have benefited from a little more editing, keeping only those jokes that set the standard so high in the first place.

An unexpected aspect of the performance was the script editing by Artistic Director Emma Whitworth, which brought the story into the 21st century by making plentiful references to modern life – everything from a tongue-in-cheek mockery of veganism to a rousing cry of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!” Some issues were clearly directed at a student audience, while others were aimed at a broader audience, with John Rutter, primary school choirs and Hull all being mocked within a single sentence. While many of these provoked unexpected laugh-out-loud moments and the lyrical changes were especially impressive, some seemed contrived and fell a little flat; it was difficult to tell if they were scripted or ad-libbed, as the impact varied so greatly. Perhaps the dialogue would have benefited from a little more editing, keeping only those jokes that set the standard so high in the first place.

Overall, the Gilbert and Sullivan Society have created a show that truly channels the spirit of the operetta. It is light, engaging, and laugh-out-loud funny, with only a few occasions where the level of refinement slips slightly. I would heartily recommend that you don’t let the word “operetta” put you off; far from inaccessible, the show is two and a half hours of delightful silliness, in which a happy ending is (of course) guaranteed.


University of York’s Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of The Mikado will continue at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre until Saturday 24th February.

When you go, don’t forget to bring some spare change for the charity raffle, in support of EDS UK. The charity supports those affected by Ehlers Danlos syndromes, which affect the body’s connective tissue. Please give generously.

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