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Sarah Tynan (Yum-Yum) and Robert Murray (Nanki-Poo) [Photo © Alastair Muir and ENO]
17 Feb 2008

ENO's The Mikado

Director Jonathan Miller was there at the curtain call to greet the first night of this latest revival of a production which has now been in ENO's repertoire for twenty years.

Gilbert and Sullivan: The Mikado
English National Opera

Above: Sarah Tynan (Yum-Yum) and Robert Murray (Nanki-Poo)
Photo © Alastair Muir and ENO


It is a sure-fire winner – a good-looking, funny, energetic show with appeal for all the family.

Its central premise is that the Japanese setting for Gilbert and Sullivan's best-known work is purely incidental, and the operetta is very much a satire on English society and values. Although we remain ostensibly in Japan, the set is clearly a smart English hotel circa 1930, and the male chorus represent various caricatures of the English upper classes of the time. The accents are cut-glass; the costumes and sets are immaculate in cream, and every character from monarch to maid is flawlessly turned out. Even the patches on Nanki-Poo's artistically ragged trousers are perfectly finished.

Ko-ko's “little list” is rewritten for 2008 with moderate success; a few very funny lines about politicians and footballers were balanced out by many more obscure topical references. And after all these years, Richard Suart is inseparable from the role, with a talent for finding a funny side in lines which are normally played straight ('I dare not hope for your love – but I will not live without it' as Ko-ko tries to persuade Katisha to marry him in order to release him from his imminent execution). He frequently overacts to the point of being unfunny, but I suspect that the desperation to please is – at least to some extent – part of the act.

Other experienced members of the cast include Graeme Danby as a softly-spoken Pooh-Bah, Richard Angas's genial Mikado in a costume which seems almost as wide as he is tall (and he IS tall) and Frances McCafferty's Katisha, dominating every scene with a well-balanced tragicomic portrayal and an expert sense of musical phrasing which alleviates the disadvantages of an ageing voice.

Leading the younger contingent, Sarah Tynan's Yum-Yum is a fresh-voiced and fresh-faced delight. And she's well balanced by Robert Murray, a newcomer to the production as Nanki-Poo. It's good to see that such talented singers as these are successfully managing to forge careers on both sides of the inexplicable divide which historically seems to have separated 'Gilbert and Sullivan' from 'opera'. Both singers are becoming familiar faces in ENO's G&S productions, yet they are among the most versatile young opera soloists on the scene at the moment.

The conductor is Wyn Davies, who tends to take things rather slowly – perhaps this is why the tap-dancing maids and other choreographic highlights weren't quite as polished as I remember them being. However, the hilarious male corps-de-ballet of headless bodies has to be seen to be believed!

Ruth Elleson © 2008

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