The Charing Cross Theatre is a small fringe theatre that used to be an old Victorian Music Hall, often described as a 'hidden gem' which offers a vast array of performance genres from drama, musicals, comedy, cabaret and the occasional late night show. The set of The Mikado dealt well with the lack of physical space on stage with making use of minimal props, the multiple exits on and off stage as well as the utilising moveable set for more than one purpose.
The Mikado is one of the most well known comic operas/operettas created by Arthur Sullivan and William Schwenck Gilbert. Premiering in 1885 at the Savoy Theatre and running for almost 700 performances, The Mikado was the second longest running musical theatre piece up until that time. It remains the most frequently performed Savoy Opera, and it is especially popular with amateur and school productions - although after tonight's production I'm not sure how that'd do it justice. The work has been translated into numerous languages and is one of the most frequently played musical theatre pieces in history. The original use of the show was to satirise British politics and institutions and Gilbert got away with it by setting it in Japan and spreading out the ridicule over a few operettas he created.
A brief synopsis of the original story: Nanki-Poo arrives to marry his beloved Yum-Yum however she is already betrothed to Ko-Ko, her aged guardian. Ko-Ko makes a deal with Nanki-Poo as he is in need of serving The Mikado, that Nanki-Poo can marry Yum-Yum for a month before he is then needed by Ko-Ko. Later on we find Nanki-Poo has another woman's love along with a twist in the tale - now what musical theatre piece would be complete without any drama?
Director Thom Southerland radically re-conceived this version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta, The Mikado. In this production, which boasts a Noël Coward sensitivity, Gilbert & Sullivan's delightful, much-loved score was performed acoustically on two baby grand pianos - aiding the operetta feel. This Hobson’s Choice-inspired take on The Mikado is set in the Titipu Umbrella and Fan Factory, owned by The Mikado. All the familiar characters and songs remain intact, including Yum-Yum, Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing, who sing the classic Three Little Maids From School Are We, as workers in the department providing fans for local schools. I personally thought the re-working of the original story to fit contemporary audiences was a very wise decision and will pay off well with interest in the show.
Overall the cast are very talented, there are some performers in the show with some very impressive credits, such as Rebecca Caine originating Cosette in Les Miserables in London as well as being the first Christine Daaé in the Canadian cast of Phantom of the Opera. Along with Leigh Coggins having covered - and played - Christine and Cosette on the 25th Anniversary Tours of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. These two extremely talented women - along with Matthew Crowe who's talent is far beyond the list of his recent credits - absolutely stole the show for me. As aforementioned the rest of the cast were very good, however, these three leads have such deliciously easy vocals it's hard not to melt when hearing them. Sadly, Hugh Osborne did not match the rest of the cast vocally. He delivered the comedy extremely well in the edited version of 'As Some Day It May Happen' referencing such contemporary issues as the 'Twittersphere', the cast of Made In Chelsea and The Only Way Is Essex as well as ridiculing politicians - getting howls and woops of laughter from audience members. However, that does not detract from the fact when singing 'On A Tree By A River...' in Act Two, his vocals were noticeably under par (shall we say) in comparison to the aforementioned greats of the cast, which is highly upsetting as his acting throughout was good.
The production itself is very good, it's well put together, the cast are very good and the use of space is good as Charring Cross isn't the largest of spaces. When pitching the show to people, I feel this show will do well with all age because only people who know of G&S' work from previous productions or are musical theatre students will go and see the show. However, that said the older generations that will enjoy the music more perhaps might not comprehend all the contemporary references throughout the show. Then, on the contrary the younger generations may enjoy it more as an 'old school' musical theatre piece who will also grasp the modern humour. This show has something for everyone, I over-heard people in the auditorium saying they weren't normally opera fans however because this production wasn't as 'twee', and is rather stripped back compared to other opera productions they were thoroughly enjoying it!
Standout moments from the show come from Matthew Crowe for his silky smooth voice, voluptuous vibrato and charming good looks. Rebecca Caine for her sheer mastery of the art of performance, the singing, the acting and the brilliant characterisation - all incredible. Last, but by no means least, Leigh Coggins for her extremely accurate acting choices for Yum-Yum, easy vocals - with immense control - and for her enthralling rendition of 'The Sun, Whose Rays Are All Ablaze'.
For a rating I would give it 4 stars, out of five!
The Mikado is playing at the Charing Cross Theatre for a limited run until 3 January 2015. Book your The Mikado tickets here!
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