The Mikado

The National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company

Malvern Theatres.


YUM-Yum has a real dilemma: do you opt to marry the man you love if you are to be buried alive a month later?

Gilbert and Sullivan invariably transports us briefly into an unreal world where romance comes into conflict with gruesome threats, all spiced with lively and varied melodies and good humour!

It’s all good escapist entertainment for a devoted and enthusiastic audience!

The world of ‘The Mikado’ is Japan. The son of the emperor, the Mikado, is in love with Yum Yum, the ward of Ko-Ko, who was formerly a lowly tailor guilty of the capital offence of flirting, but is now exalted to the office of Lord High Executioner of Titipu.

He is however unlikely to chop his own head off, so the prospect of a gruesome decapitation seems remote enough. We can all relax. However he intends to marry Yum-Yum himself, and Katisha, a monster of the royal court intends to marry the son of the Mikado herself, so the young lovers face two horrendous obstacles!

Gilbert and Sullivan operettas give us a fairly standard and predictable set of elements, dramatically and musically. What brings a particularly enjoyable dimension to the shows are the innovative adaptations to the script.

Ko-Ko has a wonderful song where he adds to his ‘list’ a number of those who would not be missed if they were executed: it provideG and S companys him with an opportunity to have a light-hearted dig at all sorts of contemporary people including the sellers of PPI, the advocates of gluten-free diets and the former lead presenter of Top Gear!

The show offers us a lovely visual spectacle. The set is uncomplicated but impressive and the adjustment between the Acts is pleasing. It is accentuated by a brilliant lighting plot that makes very effective use of patterns, colour and silhouettes. The costumes were for the most part excellent, though the women’s gowns were not the most flattering. The show with its Japanese flavour is pleasing on the eye.

The key to Gilbert and Sullivan however is in the music and the melodies with the humorous diction and rhymes. The orchestra was conducted with great energy by James Hendry, and produced a lovely variety of moods: the light and tripping melodies and the quieter gentle passages were played with particular expression and charm. The voices are generally excellent: Claire Lees as Yum-Yum has a very strong voice, Donald Maxwell as the Mikado has a wonderful bass voice that resonates powerfully, Bruce Graham as Pooh-Bah, Amy Payne as Katisha, and Robin Bailey as Nanki-Poo all sing very well too.

There are of course many wonderful songs but the Madrigal sung by Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing, Nanki-Poo and Go-To had a particularly lovely balance and variation in tone and mood. For comic value, the song ‘Trio’ by Yum-Yum, Nanki-Poo and Ko-Ko was hugely enjoyable with accelerating repeats.

However the acting ‘Oscar’ has to go to Richard Gauntlett as Ko-Ko. He brings a huge amount of character and comedy to his portrayal, and it is the element that is most delightful in this generally satisfying and solidly professional production. His timing, use of comic gesture, his dancing, all contributed to a wonderful performance that caught the eye throughout the evening. When he was on stage the show had added comic value and electricity.

This is one of several Gilbert and Sullivan shows on this week at Malvern. They abound in familiar lines and quotations, such as ‘To make the punishment fit the crime!’  The mature audience are committed lovers of these colourful shows. The company provides a grand evening of lively entertainment!

Timothy Crow


HMS Pinafore 9-10 September

The Gondoliers 11-12 September 

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