PEEP-BO, Yum-Yum and Pitti-Sing are all present and correct in Sasha Regan’s boisterous reimagining of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado (or The Town of Titipu), but it has to be said, they are unlike any three little maids to have gone before, unless you happen to be familiar with Hinge and Bracket.
King’s Theatre, Leven Street
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Accompanied by a lone piano, the curtain rises on a campsite, and a camp sight it is, straight out of an Enid Blyton book.
However, instead of the Famous Five setting up tent on some dark and sinister moor, we have a party of 1950’s school boys, on a school camping trip, entertaining themselves by performing The Mikado.
A comic opera that dates back to 1885, The Mikado is today one the most frequently performed G&S works.
A love story set in Japan, and a satire on British politics of the time, it tells the tale of Yum-Yum, the ward of Ko-Ko, to whom she is also engaged to be married.
When Yum-Yum falls in love with Nanki-Poo, a wandering minstrel who is secretly the son of The Mikado, the ruler of all Japan, a surreal tale of farcical situations evolve.
It’s hardy surprising, the town of Titipu is an absurd little place where flirting is banned and The Lord High Executioner can only behead someone after he has chopped off his own head.
In Regan’s 16-strong company, Alan Richardson, as Yum-Yum, demonstrates a captivating range and warmth that is infectious.
His beau, Richard Munday’s gallant Nanki-Poo, gives the piece a strong spine.
However, it is Alex Weatherill who really shines.
Channelling Dame Hilda, his Katisha is a completely convincing, larger than life harridan.
Weatherill boasts all the grotesqueness of a character born of The League of Gentlemen yet with genuine heart. It’s a glorious show stealing turn.
Other performances are less even and some voices are lost to the auditorium.
Diction too is a problem, and while the gender swap is an intriguing, if not original concept, it works for and against the piece.
Bringing a freshness to comedy moments - and there are many that are laugh out loud - it also detracts from overall intention of the piece.
Played out on Ryan Dawson Laight’s simple staging - three tents and silhouetted trees - the required intimacy too is sacrificed in a venue the size of The Kings.
Holly Hughes’ bullish choreography is well drilled, but the danced transition from campsite to Titipu jars, and despite the joyous reverie of those on stage, the novelty of ‘guys as girls’ wears thin.
Regan’s inspiration to transform the works of G&S stemmed from her experiences performing Gilbert and Sullivan at a single-sex school, as a result she brings a 1950’s ‘all-boys together’ Gang Show sensibility to this production that makes it a must for collectors of theatrical curiosities, but perhaps not for G&S purists or the casual observer.
Run ends Saturday