Some excellent vocals, comic timing and orchestral numbers were sadly marred by a failure to portray the full depth of the narrative.
The Mikado is perhaps one of the most enduring operas. The Gilbert & Sullivan classic is set in Japan, where the easy attitude to death, flimsiness of authority and approach to flirtation all set to make a political commentary on the state of the British Government. While Nuffield’s most recent production, supported by LopSoc, kept much of this essence, the story got lost as the actors failed to portray the narrative.
The beginning was, in fact, the main issue. Starting with three children, the idea is that they play with (and bring to life) sets of origami figures before seeing their story play out. But the actors just appeared to be running around the stage and the narrative did not come across (I was left researching the plot on my phone 20 minutes in so that I could understand it). It is a real shame, as Gilbert & Sullivan’s plays are known for lacking character development and relying on simple plots and powerful vocal. In this instance, even the simple plot was not conveyed. Thankfully, after this, the plot of the figures themselves was clear, but the show still lacked the dimension of understanding that the characters were figments of three children’s conflicting imaginations.
The performances varied. On the whole, the less said about the choreography, the better! It was often overly simple, and appeared to be entirely unnecessary, and then still frequently people were out of time. The vocal performances ranged. I was amazed by the Mikado and Katisha, whose performances were simply outstanding. Katisha, especially, showed herself to be worthy of professional status. The shame, though, is that their stand-out vocal did leave the others lacking somewhat, especially in the case of Nanki-Poo, whose voice appeared to strain a little towards the end of numbers. That being said, though, the vocals were impressive overall, and it is worth note that no lines were missed, an impressive feat given the complexity and sheer volume of lyrical verses within the play.
Also specifically worth note is Pooh-Bah (or Lord High Everything Else), whose Alan Rickman-esque portrayal of authority was remarkable; for a play with little character development, he made me love the character. He also managed to bring in a distinct comic element with well timed and snarky comments. Indeed, the whole production was a little updated (at times talking about iPhones and computer games), and this did add a level of comedy appropriate to the modern audience. It was a shame though, and this may be a timing problem, that the costumes were not more elaborate and pronounced. Gilbert & Sullivan are known for their over-the-top presentation, and the costumes were a little plain and uninteresting. Specific praise, though, should go to the excellent orchestra that kept to the highest standards at all times. I was thoroughly impressed by the level of musical talent that was on show, and they easily showed themselves to be a professional set.
Overall, the performance was good, and it would likely have achieved more recognition if it were not for the flawed narrative at the beginning, that sadly cost this production a dimension it ought to have gained.
The Mikado wraps up with a matinee and evening performance tonight (18th February).