Opera review: Scottish Opera: The Mikado, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

By a happy coincidence, Scottish Opera's co-production with D'Oyly Carte of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado opened on election day.

The Mikado. Picture: James Glossop
The Mikado. Picture: James Glossop

Scottish Opera: The Mikado | Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Rating: ***

It is, after all, a political satire of its day, a pop at the Victorian British ruling establishment masked by a thin – to our taste, slightly acrid – veneer of 19th century Japonism.

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How does a director translate all that for a modern audience? Leave it as it is, a period piece? Or modernise it out of all recognition? Director Martin Lloyd-Evans’ solution is to adopt the former approach, but present it as a staging within a staging. So we appear to be watching players in a bygone Music Hall entertainment – Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, performs a botched saw-a-man-in-half magic trick over the overture – beheading is the central theme, after all – and we occasionally go behind the scenes to the “chorus girls’” dressing room. By making a farce out of a farce, Lloyd-Evans’ helps us accept the underlying anachronisms.

The costuming – like the entirety of Dick Bird’s delightfully conflicting design concept – is a surreal fusion of cultures, British Imperialism cross-stitched with stylised Japanese.

As for the execution, so to speak, of the operetta, Thursday’s opening performance had all the hallmarks of a work-in-progress. Go and see this later in its long run, and I’m sure there will be many genuine belly laughs in response to slicker deliveries by a cast that seemed a little hesitant in its timing and interaction.

The lynchpin is the highly experienced Richard Suart as Ko-Ko, whose Del-boy accent and hapless scheming are a constant source of amusement. And he doesn’t miss the opportunity to throw in contemporary references to his “I’ve got a Little List” song. If only he didn’t race through some of his lines. Rebecca Bottone brings resolute charm to the role of Yum-Yum, in direct contrast to Rebecca de Pont Davies’ wild and hideous Katisha, every bit a “Queen of the Night” translated vocally to the voluminous depths of the alto register.

Nicholas Sharratt took time to find rhythm and consistency as Nanki-Poo, though the innocence and fragility of his characterisation is honest and refreshing.

Colourful portrayals, too, from Stephen Richardson (Mikado), Andrew Shore (Pooh-Bah), Ben McAteer (Pish-Tush) and the Three Little Maids.

Like everything else, Derek Clark’s musical direction needs tightening up, as does the chorus choreography and general flow. It’ll come.