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A CurtainUp London Review
Despite its theatrical age, this production is delightfully fresh and the cream Palm Court hotel set still takes your breath away with its cream palms, cello, grand piano, gramophone and soaring architecture. Gilbert and Sullivan wrote this as a political satire based on small town politics in Victorian England and officious local officials. The Japanese setting was incidental. Pooh-Bah (Mr Donald Maxwell) is Lord High Everything Else having hoovered up every sinecure and local appointment so that he is often giving permission to himself in a bureaucratic nightmare for the rest of us.
There is great visual wit from the vicar with his harlequined knee socks to the elderly gentlemen with their red carnations miming like marionettes. The mincing page boys manage to look rather uninterested when the song refers to the prospect of a Nancy on their knee. The chorus maids convey a deliberate air of amateurish, shambolic choreography and the high kicking bell boys are deliberately out of sync. Some of the schoolgirls have been cast from those a good few decades past their schooldays as no opportunity has been missed to raise a laugh. I liked the girls in silk dresses lining up to coiffe the hair of the one in front. Ko-Ko also manages to inject some Richard III into his performance. As well as the lyrical wit there is the famously rewritten topical list of potential executions that Ko-Ko delivers with topical references to the coalition government and the Royal Wedding invitations.
In a striped blazer and white flannels, popular tenor Mr Alfie Boe plays Nanki-Poo, the "wandering minstrel" with his divine singing voice, secret royal connections and rival with Ko-Ko for the hand of the delicious schoolgirl soprano Yum-Yum (Miss Sophie Bevan). The massively girthed Mikado (Mr Richard Angas) arrives with the sound of drums and has his shoes licked by the supplicating Ko-Ko. The villainess and promised to Nanki-Poo, Katisha (Miss Anne-Marie Owens) has a wonderful contralto voice and despite her vilification, her song "When Hope is Gone" is very moving.
Gilbert and Sullivan still have a body of fans who appreciate the good tunes and the witty lyrics but this magnificent production breathes new life into the repertoire.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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