Opera della Luna at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford
The Mikado was always a fashion statement. All things Japanese were the rage in 1880s London, and Liberty's, no less, dressed the original production at the Savoy.
So absolutely appropriate that Gilbert's tale of the cheap tailor turned executioner should start in a sweat-shop, complete with treadle sewing machines, and feature gorgeous frocks, designed by Gabriella Csanyi-Wills. Katisha's Act Two creation, Yum-Yum's gowns and Koko's Gaultier-inspired kilt especially eye-catching. The sets, too, are stylish to a fault, with shadowy topiary figures for the Act II garden.
Jeff Clarke's witty and inventive re-imagining includes countless enjoyable details, as does the choreography of Jenny Arnold, who has also directed this revival. The opening sextet, the “schoolgirl photoshoot” - very Japanese, this – the tocsin Madrigal, the exhausting encores of the gardening trio, the tap-dancing finale to Act One, all come up fresh and funny.
Opera della Luna's Seven Savoyard Samurai do excellent work with their characters – John Griffiths is the Northern shop steward Pish-Tush, as well as a lugubrious Mikado, with his crime and punishment ditty updated to include graffiti artists, HS2, Jeremy Kyle and [un-named] Wynne Evans, whose skills would probably fit well into this company, if WNO could only spare him … Koko's lost lists now include the SNP as well as the aromatherapists. He's played by Richard Gauntlett, rather as Joe Pasquale might tackle the role, if he had the voice. Physically very funny, with lots of adlibs [“wake me up before you Koko ...”], designer costumes including that kilt, but a playing a mercifully straight bat for Tit Willow. Martin George - “born sneering” is an imposing Pooh-Bah, changing hats and robes to emphasise his multiple functions. The three little girls include Celena Bridge's beautifully sung Yum-Yum, Nichola Jolley's Pitti-Sing, and Louise Crane, sole survivor of OdL's first Mikado tour in 1998, as a lively Peep-Po and a formidable, elegant Katisha.
Sullivan's music is made over, too, with a clever reduction which features some amusing oriental percussion, but there are excellent straight vocal performances here, notably from a dashing Christopher Diffey as Nanki-Poo. And Katisha's two serious solos are beautifully crafted by Crane.
Opera della Luna's next G&S tour is to be The Gondoliers, opening in May.