As I sipped my pre-performance glass of bubbly I couldn’t help but notice the attire of the other drinkers. Fleeces, hoodies, trainers and t-shirts with popular slogans abounded everywhere. I remarked to my guest, somewhat haughtily, that theatrical standards of dress had fallen. My companion laughed and remarked that my observation was worthy of Frasier, puncturing my pretention with a well-aimed prick of satirical comment.
I perused The Lowry literature in an attempt to discover a possible explanation for the sartorial slip as well as extracting a moderate re-inflation of my pretence. I am, after all, an opera critic and duty bound to uphold the professional pomposity of my calling. And there it was, the main auditorium was to be given over to a dramaturgy by the televisual comedian and permanently unfunny Sean Lock. The popular pull seeing a minor celeb had obviously proved to much for the populace who had forgotten that dressing for the TV lounge and the theatre are two different things.
I jest of course, but it did remind me that I was here to see a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. Surely as popular in their day as any modern celebrity, if not more so and without the malignant draw of TV. We were housed in the quaint Quays Theatre and a very suitable venue it proved to be. It was an intimate space, high-tiered and reminiscent of a music hall, but full of the pashminaratti abuzz with anticipation and, with that, my sense of decorum was restored.
The Opera Della Luna’s production of The Mikado opens in a tailor’s shop all bustle and bright as we are introduced to the “Gentlemen of Japan” with their attitudes “queer and quaint”. When the opera originally opened in 1885, London was in the grip of a fascination for all things Japanese – especially fabrics – and it was Liberty & Co who provided the costumes for the first production. The designers here realised they could not compete with a full traditional ‘kimono’ production but looked to the New York exhibition of Versace for their inspiration. They were a knockout. The Gentlemen tailors dressed in black and white stripes with splashes of colour belted out a brash and distinctly northern opener as we awaited the arrival of the main protagonists.
The narrative of The Mikado is both hilarious and disturbing. It is essentially a rom-com about decapitation. The story concerns Nanki-Poo’s search for his beloved Yum-Yum. Nanki-Poo is a travelling trombone player who is also secretly the son of the Mikado (or king) of Japan. He is on the run from Katisha, a middle-aged courtier, who mistakes Nanki-Poo’s youthful friendly nature to be a sign of love and believes herself to be engaged. Nanki-Poo has been condemned to death under the Mikado’s strict anti-flirting laws. In fact, flirting is one of the few crimes to carry the death penalty. On his travels Nanki-Poo falls in love with one of the little maids from school, Yum-Yum. However, Yum-Yum is engaged to be married to the tailor of the town of Titipu, Ko-Ko, who also happens to be the Lord High Executioner. You see where it’s coming from and, no doubt, where it’s going to. It’s a good, old fashioned romp.
Without getting further into the comic intricacies of the plot, the performance was a marvel. Nanki-Poo (Tim Walton) sang with the innocent charm of a John-Boy and the lovesick devotion of a Niles Crane. Yum-Yum (Victoria Joyce) matched his devotion with the girlish allure of a Ganguro teenager and, in the second act, a sleek sexiness. John Griffiths as both Pish-Tush and the Mikado was reet grand. Pooh-Bah (Carl Sanderson), bureaucrat-in-chief and aristocrat-in-waiting, was full of stately good humoured corruption while Pitti-Sing (Nichola Jolley), Yum-Yum’s sister and co-maid, supported and sashayed with a stylish appeal. Katisha (Louise Crane) sang slighted with the menace of a woman scorned until she was wooed by the tit willowing of Ko-Ko. Ah, Ko-Ko. In this role, Richard Gauntlett – tailor, executioner and jilted john – was the golden thread that held the performance together. He sang with the lasting energy of an ever-ready bunny. He was Sid Snot, Joe Pasquale, Matt Crawford and Madam Twanky, full of bluster and innocence. Together with Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum, their rendition of Here’s a how-de-do was tearful funny with the slapstick timing of a Charlie Chaplin and had the audience in stitches.
It was a fantastic night and an energetic, ebullient performance, touching and really funny. I wonder if Sean Lock was as good?
Review by Robert Hamilton
Where: The Lowry, Salford Quays and touring