Was the 13th outing for this Miller classic unlucky for some? Since it was unveiled over 20 years ago, the good Doctor’s Anglicisation of Titipu has rarely been out of ENO’s repertoire and it’s not hard to see why. Jonathan Miller, aided and abetted by Sue Blane‘s costumes and Stefanos Lazaridis‘ designs, transports the audience to London in the early ’30s.
In doing this, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Japanese allegory is jettisoned in place of a coruscating attack on the British establishment (which is what the original was in any case), and is executed with such panache that even the most stony-faced critic can’t fail to succumb to its charms. Well maybe.
In contrast to the dire new productions of late (Turn of the Screw notwithstanding), seeing this classic staging again came as a welcome tonic, even if it did make me hanker back to the days when the ENO was run by individuals who knew how to run an opera house. Halcyon days indeed. But for some reason, and I’m still trying to work out why, this revival didn’t sparkle as brightly as the last one.
The cast included the return of many stalwarts from previous runs, and some noteworthy role debuts. In the former category were the irrepressible Richard Suart as Ko-Ko and Frances McCafferty as Katisha. Previous incumbents of the former role have included Eric Idle and Bill Oddie, but Suart has become synonymous with the role so that it seems infeasible to now stage the work without him. He is the only cast member to get every single word across, is a natural comedian and the highlight of the evening – his ‘Little List’ where Ed Balls, Michael Ball and Kismet, Paul Potts and Nigella Lawson all come in for a drubbing – rightly brought the house down.
Next to him, veteran mezzo McCafferty found the perfect balance as Katisha between pathos and the grotesque and, whilst her voice has seen better days, she is still a magnetic stage presence.
Robert Murray was all wide-eyed innocence in his debut as Nanki-Poo and displayed a well-schooled tenor, camping it up for all it was worth, although I doubt he was really that keen on the delicious Yum-Yum, brilliantly played by Sarah Tynan who gets better every time I see her. There was rock-steady support from Graeme Danby as a suitably sonorous and pompous Pooh-Bah, and Richard Angas was a wonderfully rotund and benign Mikado.
The choreography was as slick as before but despite all this, the evening dragged. Maybe G&S ran out of steam and ideas in the second act, but the evening seemed longer than it actually was. Despite my misgivings, I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Dr Miller’s Mikado.