Since the world of Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado is one where etiquette and hierarchy are strictly observed, Chris Monks' entertaining production, now transferred to a cricket pitch, captures just the right tone in its choice of milieu. It's been alleged that the inspiration for this comic opera's exotic setting arises from an incident at Gilbert's home when a Japanese sword fell from his study wall; whether an apocryphal story or not is unimportant, for the oriental flavour of The Mikado actually serves to emphasise how essentially British is the flavour of Gilbert's satire. As humorist G K Chesterton once observed, ' I doubt whether there is a single joke in the libretto which fits the Japanese but all the jokes fit the English.' And they do, seamlessly, as petty corruption and bureaucratic incompetence are hilariously lampooned.
In the rarefied world of Titipu - now Titipu Cricket Club- the manifestly incompetent but flirtatious Ko-Ko (Alan McMahon) has escaped the threat of execution and now, in the absence of The Mikado (Julian Forsyth), finds himself unexpectedly promoted to the lofty post of Lord High Executioner. At his side stands the bombastic Pooh-Bah (Paul Bentall), a man who takes pluralism to new heights, effectively providing an entire Cabinet in his one person! Ko-Ko is on the threshold of marrying one of his young wards, Yum-Yum (Sophia Ragavelas) but her heart lies elsewhere- specifically with Nanki-Poo (James Millard), ostensibly a travelling minstrel but really the son of the Mikado.
In Monks' version, artfully designed by Sam Dowson, Nanki-Poo first appears in modern garb: baseball hat, dreadlocks and sneakers, whilst the rest of the cast are attired in suitable cricketing gear, the exception being the 'three little maids from school' who arrive in the guise of hockey players. Here cricket bats take the place of ceremonial swords and pretty much everything else too as the parallels between the impenetrable world of cricket and the Japanese tea ceremony find easy affiliation.
The Mikado's popularity surely lies in its accessibility and perennial appeal, its dark comedy couched in melodic rhyming couplets and given contemporary zest with many modern references included, such as Ko-Ko's wickedly amusing list of potential 'individuals whose loss would be a distinct gain to society at large.' Thus 'Robert Kilroy Silk and others of that ilk', are dismissed in scathing tones, along with the likes of Posh and Becks, celebrity chefs et al. Amongst a strong cast Alan McMahon's inept Ko-Ko is particularly good, floundering beautifully from first to last as an official not so much out of his depth as utterly submerged. A quirky and inventive alternative for those who prefer a less traditional Christmas show.