From Titipu To An English Golf Club
Director Matthew Johnson welcomes challenge of reinterpreting The Mikado
Matthew Johnson had no hesitation taking the most famous of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and transporting it from exotic Japan to the more mundane setting of an English golf club.
After all, he points out, it has a succesful precedent; English National Opera produced a version of The Mikado in 1986, with Eric Idle as Koko and Lesley Garrett as Yum Yum which set the operetta in a 1920s English seaside hotel with sets and costumes in black and white.
"Most of us have seen a traditional interpretation of The Mikado but I was very struck with the fact that someone had given it a different setting. I felt that I could also bring it to new life without losing the essential meaning, and what could be more English than a golf club?
“If you went to a conservative golf club now you’d see much the same thing as you would fifty years ago. It's that sense of class snobbery, and these places are so full of colourful and eccentric characters that all this can be brought into the world of the melodramatic."
Setting the operetta in Japan allowed W.S Gilbert (1836-1911)to satirise British politics and institutions while softening the impact using the disguse of Japanese characters. Setting the current production in an English golf club brings the message closer to home.
The Mikado was the ninth of fourteen operatic collaborations between W.S.Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan ( 1842- 1900) and opened on March 14, 1885 in London. It ran for 672 performances at the Savoy Theatre and by the end of 1885 an estimated 150 companies were producing the opera. It has been translated into several languages and is one of the most popular productions of what were termed the Savoy Operas, with Gilbert writing the libretti and Sullivan composing the music. They wrote fourteen 'comic operas' together.
Johnson, who trained at the Royal Academy of Music was associated director of Ruddigore at the Tabard, which was Time Out's Critics Choice. Other credits include Merrily We Toll Along at the Edinburgh Festival, and work at the Durham Revue and Cabaret Group.
But why take Gilbert and Sullivan's most popular operetta to a small theatrical space- after all it is scored for a sixty piece orchestra?
“The Mikado is an outstanding operetta, and everyone wants to work with excellent material. In many ways a small space can give you the opportunity to be inventive. For example, its a very high space and everyone in the audience is looking down. There are steps and sliding doors. You can have the cast perched at different angles, they can face different ways. With The Mikado entrance, which is highly dramatic for example, we've done something very different.The space is small but it is effective."
The story of Nanki-Poo, son of the Mikado, who has fled to escape an undesirable marriage to the ageing Katisha has been performed thousands of times. Played by Michael Risely, the character returns disguised, intending to find and marry his first love, Yum-Yum ( Emily Davies). But little does he know that she is now betrothed to Ko-Ko - the High Executioner (Ed Norwood).
Gilbert and Sullivan may have written light-hearted material but Johnson does want the audience to take this stage production seriously.
It's not Hamlet, obviously we want people to enjoy the colour, the music, the joy and the charisma of Gilbert and Sullivan. But I’ve love people to take also into account the value of the work, to watch it as a normal show."
The Mikado is produced in-house at the Tabard Theatre whose previous musical credits also include Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella and You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. Ruddigore was named Time Out Critics Choice and one of their Top Five Shows of the Week and last year’s Pirates was nominated for Best Musical Production at the Off-West End awards.
Yum-Yum: Emily Davies
Director: Matthew Johnson
February 22, 2013