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Director Paul Treasure and Musical Director Georg Corall have delivered an outstanding production of one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular operettas. “The Mikado” is mostly an unashamedly nonsensical and frivolous show that suddenly breaks from the merriment to gibe at systems of power and government. It was a sign of the times that artists disguised their disgust forthe establishment in Britain therefore G & S set the operetta in Japan. Though the only things that are Japanese are the costumes and the setting. The set designed and constructed by Barry Boyd is minimal and functional to allow for several scene changes. Costumes by wardrobe mistress Veronica Hudson are beautifully made and coordinated for the thirty cast members.

The story begins with the arrival of Nanki-Poo searching for his love, Yum-Yum, who has been betrothed to Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner. Chad Henderson plays Nanki-Poo as a quirky and half-witted simpleton which, surprisingly, perfectly suits the tenor vocal range of his songs. Henderson skilfully reaches the high tenor demands of the songs and in the second half relaxed into the role. Marli van der Bijl is extremely at ease in the role of Yum-Yum, relishing each moment and delivering an excellent performance. Likewise, Mark Thompson as Ko-Ko is delightful as the semi ‘villain’ who proves to be easily cajoled into marrying Katisha, a miserable lady of the Mikado’s court who has eyes for Nanki-Poo. Both Thompson and Brigitte Heuser as Katisha give wicked performances.

This very strong cast is well supported by Theodore Murphy-Jelley as Pooh-Bah, Belinda Cox as Pitti-Sing, Ross Bryant as Pish-Tush, Steve Sherwood as The Mikado, and Ellen Brookes as Peep-Bo, who all make the most of their moments bringing depth to otherwise superfluous characters. Likewise, the ensemble of men and women of all ages bring vitality and enjoyment to the group songs and scenes.

I had forgotten how challenging the songs of G & S shows can be but the exceptional cast adeptly deliver the solos and harmonies with seeming ease and confidence. Georg Corall’s musical direction is extraordinary and has no doubt lifted this production to new heights. Equally, his role as conductor was crucial to the audiences’ enjoyment of this production. I must admit to feeling worried when I saw how close the relatively large orchestra was situated to the audience. Too many musicals are spoiled by the orchestra/band drowning out the singers, but Corall was extremely disciplined in his role to control the volume levels so the audience could hear the words of the songs. Indeed, modulating the orchestration of the songs allowed the audience to enjoy the different instrument parts; andbeing sparing with the full orchestra parts added a dynamism to the songs. Therefore, the orchestra could be appreciated as excellent individual musicians as well as a collective. Moreover, the cast didn’t have to wear microphones. The use of microphones in musicals has become par for the course, though I’m not convinced this is a good idea since it is difficult to coordinate, and therefore often distracting, and singers lose the ability to project. 

Director Paul Treasure has done an outstanding job of controlling the delivery of this production: showing restraint when necessary, then embracing the frivolity and sheer enchantment of the farcical elements. Treasure’s experience in tackling challenging plays and musicals is apparent in this seamless production.Directing Gilbert & Sullivan operettas is not for the faint hearted! It requires a team of dedicated and talented people which The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of WA has been fortune to attract for this production.

“The Mikado” is showing at the Dolphin Theatre at UWA until 11 May 2019; though you may have to steal a ticket to see this production as it may be sold out!

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