The Mikado has plainly enjoyed her lunch: “Deep fried southern sushi,” she explains, licking her lips. Her lunch? Surely the Mikado is a man?
Not in this revival of the Watermill’s Hot Mikado she isn’t. To play the part, the Watermill has wheeled in the highly and widely experienced Melanie Marshall, pictured. Face plastered in white Geisha make-up, and dressed in a revealing, and definitely non-regal miniskirt (“If Gilbert and Sullivan could see me now,” she says wickedly, blinking enormous eyelashes), Ms Marshall is a sight never to be forgotten, quite apart from her strong vocal performance. And the scenes where she encounters Karen Mann’s crimson clothed, snarling Katasha are decidedly not for the faint-hearted.
First staged three years ago, this production was designed to tour to larger theatres across the country. In the event, funding wasn’t available, but now the tour is set, with just a brief run-in period at the Watermill itself. As before, direction and choreography are by Craig Revel Horwood, with inspired and irreverent musical arrangements from Sarah Travis. If anything, the show is hotter, steamier, and even more ‘in yer face’ than it was the first time around – director and arranger have worked together on Sunset Boulevard and Spend Spend Spend! in the meantime, and the increased confidence shows. Topped in a saucy hat, Travis presides at the piano, and gleefully plays fast and loose with Sullivan’s tempi, as styles range from big band to jazz to soul. Tit-Willow gets a particularly revolutionary makeover. Instrumentation has been adjusted to fit the cast, all of whom match up to the considerable demands made of them – as always in a Watermill musical, the performers are required to act, dance, and play at least one instrument to professional standard.
There’s also lots of invention in Revel Horwood’s choreography, as Hot Mikado’s succession of colourful characters appear. First to shatter the Japanese decorum are the three little maids Pitti-Sing (Cassie Pearson), Peep-Bo (Georgina Field), and Yum-Yum (Abiona Omonua, particularly impressive in this, her professional debut). Demure young ladies these are not, especially on the arrival of bare-chested, hunky Nanki-Poo (Dominic Tighe). As for Ko-Ko’s wheeler-dealering for high office with Pooh-Bah (Julian Littman), the exchanges show that Gilbert’s satire is as relevant as ever. Ko-Ko (Jeffrey Harmer), bless him, gives off the air of a gentle, old-fashioned Oxford academic, ill prepared for the machinations he is sucked into.
A hot Mikado indeed: nobody can possibly argue with that description of this pulsating, rumbustious revival.