The Mikado

Wed 13th – Sat 16th November 2013

reviews

Katie Exell

at 02:05 on 14th Nov 2013

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Sat in the Castle Great Hall waiting for DULOG’s 'The Mikado' to begin, the solitary strand of contrived paper lanterns did not make you feel that you’d entered the Japan of Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic comic opera. However, as soon as the chorus entered and enthusiastically began their first song, you could tell that you were going to be immersed in a world of musical exuberance, spirited dialogue, and comedic romance.

The love story of Nanki Poo and Yum Yum is a surreal one, involving a needy cougar, an executioner who has never killed anyone, and a case of mistaken identity. Alex Prescot and Claire Ward each delivered powerfully dramatic and well-harmonised musical performances in these lead roles. They also successfully managed to tread the careful line between having good onstage chemistry and being nauseatingly sweet.

However, the limelight was stolen by the trio of inept ‘villains’ who act as obstacles to their marriage. Russell Park (Koko), Hugh Train (Pish-Tush), and Matt Elliot-Ripley (Pooh-Bah) had impeccable comic timing in their scenes together, and their ridiculous dialogue was, at times, a welcome break from the singing. Elliot-Ripley’s flamboyant portrayal of Pooh-Bah never failed to provoke a laugh from the audience, whilst Hugh Train’s delightfully understated cynicism offset the more ostentatious characters. However, Russell Park deserves a special mention for his impressive recitation of ‘As some day it may happen’, where the original lyrics were adapted and made relevant to Durham-specific eccentricities such as oxford rejects, red trousers, and freshers who just discovered alcohol. Many members of the audience were in hysterics from the beginning, and by the time he mentioned twerking, he pushed everyone over the edge. Amalgamating classic Savoy Opera and modern popular culture is a bold move, but definitely paid off in this case.

For those who haven’t had much experience of the acquired taste that is light opera, the high proportion of musical numbers can feel overbearing at times. Particularly in the early scenes, some of the performers seemed to be suffering from the vocal uncertainty that is characteristic of an opening night, and at times the lyrics were rather indecipherable. However, these early nerves seemed to have dissolved by the second act, which was a noticeably more seamless performance. The songs featuring the entire chorus were particularly effective, as the strengths of each individual voice complemented each other very well, notably in the final number.

Director Ellie Gauge took on a challenging work with The Mikado and, despite some sporadic lapses in performance, she was effective in creating the distinctive land of Gilbert and Sullivan where nothing and no one is allowed to take themselves too seriously, including the audience.

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Emily Brearley-Bayliss

at 10:54 on 14th Nov 2013

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This classic operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan, performed by DULOG and directed by Ellie Gauge, definitely started out a little roughly. The opening chorus seemed hesitant and struggled to get their timing spot on, and likewise the orchestra didn’t appear to be on top form. This wasn’t helped by the odd nature of the venue, with the audience and stage sitting awkwardly at one end of Castle College’s Great Hall. The reams of unused space to the right of the audience were superfluous to requirements and the show would perhaps have been more at home in a smaller, more intimate venue.

Saying that, the cast were incredibly talented. The voices of the female chorus and the three maids shone through and were consistent throughout. In the main role of Nanki Poo, Alex Prescot held the stage excellently, delivering a strong and comic performance. Russell Park was suitably creepy in the role of Koko, and Caitlin McEwan was hilarious as the lovelorn yet repulsive Katisha. Diction was occasionally an issue, but this was down to the quick, choppy nature of the script and the lack of microphones rather than than the actors.

Matt Elliot-Ripley, however, gave the standout performance. His cartoonish portrayal of Pooh-Bah was not only side-splittingly funny, but performed with complete abandonment and enthusiasm. Over-acted, maybe, but that is exactly what is needed from this role within what is undeniably an over acted and ridiculously childish play.

After the interval the general atmosphere and coherence of the piece improved dramatically. Maybe it was that the audience had had a chance to nip to the bar, or just that the performers had relaxed into their roles and were becoming more comfortable on the stage. There were still one or two awkward moments when the action paused, waiting for applause, and none came, but for the most part the audience were laughing along jovially.

The worst part of theatre is the heart-stopping moment when a performer forgets their lines, and this unfortunately happened a few times too many tonight. I’ll put it down to first-night nerves, and after Gauge had shouted the appropriate prompts from the side lines things were quickly back on track. Despite the moments of awkwardness, however, ‘The Mikado’ was a very good show. The audience evidently enjoyed themselves, particularly in the second half, and the extraordinary vocal talent of every single member of the cast was astounding.

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