What do fidget spinners, English seaside hotels and “beheadings” all have in common? They are all present in Diamond Valley Singers’ current reimagining of Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic operetta The Mikado, which is currently playing at Warrandyte High School Theatre. The Mikado tells the tale of the “wandering minstrel” Nanki-Poo (Asher Griffith-Jones) and his quest to marry his love Yum-Yum (Kristen Ryan) who is unfortunately already betrothed to the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko (Steven Edwards).
The show features a gorgeously minimalist set, a white stage bearing only the stylised lettering of the show’s title. During the overture, the ensemble emerge and transform the bare stage into the lobby of the Hotel Titipu, a swanky white and black-themed English seaside resort from the 1920s. This change in the show’s setting, borrowing from the 1987 production starring Eric Idle, is definitely far removed from the original’s Japan, but is nevertheless very effective in creating a fun and more contemporary take on the material.
The ensemble, portraying guests and staff of the hotel, are resplendent in monochromatic 1920s attire and each of their characters has a well thought-out backstory. Many of the ensemble are DVS regulars and their love for performing is clear. Despite not being amplified, the ensemble are able to create a strong and rich sound, yet sometimes have to fight the orchestra to be heard.
As the plot kicks into motion we are soon introduced to each of our major players, including Nanki-Poo (Griffith-Jones), Pooh-Bah (Malcom Wilton), Ko-Ko (Edwards) and Pish-Tush (Mark Clark). It is clear from very early on that each of the actors is truly giving their all to their performance and that they are having an absolute ball in doing so. A particular standout is Griffith-Jones’s performance as Nanki-Poo, which is extremely well thought-out and polished. Griffith-Jones has a particular knack for comedy and physicality and would fit very well into either a Monty Python sketch or even a 1920s silent comedy film. Excellent also is Wilton as Pooh-Bah. Wilton, a DVS veteran whose dulcet vocal tones would be perfect for radio, has the house in stitches with his portrayal of the self-important head of basically everything at the hotel. Steven Edwards brings a deliciously diabolical flavour to his portrayal of Ko-Ko, the scheming yet flamboyant Lord High Executioner/Human Resources manager. Clark plays no-nonsense Pish-Tush that is an excellent straight-man to zany co-stars. Mr Mikado (Nicholas Durbridge) himself is suitably intimidating as the CEO of the company.
The principal ladies of the show appear slightly later than the men and definitely hold their own on both the comedy and the vocal front. Kristen Ryan shines as the demure yet vain Yum-Yum, whilst Jennifer Wakefield brings a seasoned bravado to Katisha, and is at times reminiscent of a more imposing Margaret Dumont. Excellent also are Yum-Yum’s fellow maids Pitti-Sing (Sarah Carpenter) and Peep-Bo (Stephanie Morgan), who not only manage to pull off the harmonically difficult ‘Three Little Maids’, but also fully embody their schoolgirl characters.
It was very heartening to see that each actor was able to put their own spin on characters that have been played by others so many times before. The leads share a fantastic chemistry together onstage, matched only by their wonderful comedic timing. What some may be slightly lacking in vocal ability is made up for with sheer enthusiasm and a clear dedication to the material that is being performed. The entire cast’s infectious energy resonates deeply with the audience and I found myself rooting for the characters and wanting them to succeed.
As someone very unfamiliar with the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, I was at first concerned that given the age of the material I would not be able to understand the plot despite the alterations. This turned out to be no issue at all thanks to the clear and succinct direction. It was clear that the staging had been well thought-out and the show was directed in a way that ensured the audience always knew where to look. This was also complemented by the lighting design, which was very clean with spots on the characters that the audience should focus on and also special lighting themes for certain characters.
The one let-down of the show was in the orchestra. Although it was not too noticeable when there was singing, some of the orchestra appeared to be struggling with the instrumental parts. Because of this, some songs that are traditionally played faster appeared a little under tempo. However, this did not at all detract from the actors’ performances or the enjoyment of the show.
Whether you be a Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado or a newcomer like myself, Diamond Valley Singers’ The Mikado is a production you should not miss. The production is a visual treat, with excellent direction and set design, while each member of the Diamond Valley Singers Cast is clearly having a ball. This fresh twist on an old classic is absorbing and entertaining and is sure to have you exiting the theatre with a very big smile on your face.