Review: The Mikado (Charing Cross Theatre) JohnnyFox December 3, 2014 Musicals, Opera, Reviews The Mikado has to be Gilbert and Sullivan’s most accessible operetta. And with its princeling-in-disguise and not-quite-innocent heroine as his eventual bride, it’s not so far from pantomime that you couldn’t consider it a jolly seasonal alternative to Cinderella. Trouble is, it’s been done to death and updating it to the 1920s means unfortunate comparisons with ENO’s immaculately-designed Jonathan Miller production which they have been trotting out at the Coliseum since 1987, back in the days when Lesley Garrett could sing, almost convincingly, as a schoolgirl. Add to that echoes of Sasha Regan’s ingenious all-male G&S productions at the Union Theatre and you’re already up against a challenge. The Art Deco set announces the location as a Fan and Umbrella factory, but surprisingly no attempt is made to adapt the characters to factory or shop personnel and the story is just played out, as the original, among the court of Japan and the petty officials of the town of Titipu. There are moments when you feel that given the costume budget and a choreographer as good as Joey McNeeley, a very good amateur operatic society could achieve a similar standard and after the brilliance of Thom Southerland’s inventive staging of Titanic, this feels disappointing and a less radical re-working than you might hope for. It is, however, sung with astonishing clarity – unmiked, the cast manage to deliver the pretty music and complex word patterns to the back of the long narrow auditorium and whilst there’s a diversity of vocal styles from the genuinely operatic to the more West End voices, the singing is largely excellent, particularly the women. Can’t say the same for the dancing which possibly needs a little more rehearsal. Leigh Coggins’ Yum-Yum has the perfect blend of pure soprano and the merest calculating edge to her ‘girlish glee’ and is not quite matched by a charmingly boyish but slightly underpowered Matthew Crowe as her suitor Nanki-Poo. Hugh Osborne redeems a rather bank clerkish Ko-Ko with an inspired and hugely topical ‘little list’ whose smart lyrics really should be published on the website so you can savour them again after the show. Mark Heenehan gets his own chance of comedy gold with the Mikado’s equally sharply-updated ‘Let the Punishment Fit the Crime’ as a highlight of his beautifully-sung and delightfully sardonic performance. Rebecca Caine makes so much more of Katisha than you’ll have seen in previous productions, bestriding the stage as a predatory cougar and dressed like a character from E F Benson, relishing both the comedy and the glorious arias she delivers impeccably. Hearing how tremendously good she is in this role, it makes you wonder why her career hasn’t been studded with more West End leads since she originated Cosette in Les Miserables thirty years ago. The score is adapted for two grand pianos which looks lovely, but you may miss the other instruments when “the brass will clash and the trumpets bray, as they cut a dash on their wedding day” only in your head. I love The Mikado and am very happy to see this charming chamber production at the good-value Charing Cross Theatre. But I might just sneak back to the Coliseum next time there’s a revival, too.