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Hot Mikado

WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, book and lyrics adapted by David H Bell, music by Rob Bowman
Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate
(2004)

Hot Mikado logo

This is the second Mikado to open in London in two days, both of them unorthodox. Following the cricketing version at the Orange Tree, another family-run theatre, Upstairs at the Gatehouse in north London, sees a new version of the 1986 swing adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan's popular classic.

With the exception of a venerable director John Plews, the creative team behind this jaunty musical is ridiculously young. In fact, the likelihood is that if any is not in his or her twenties it is because they are still teenagers, rather than any thirty-something.

This gives the production a freshness and vibrancy although it means that some of the characters look implausibly young.

It is easy to see why the Hot Mikado has been successful. It takes the best of Gilbert and Sullivan and moves the location to 1940s America (possibly Harlem, although with the exception of teenage trumpeter, Mark Crown, this is an exclusively white cast) updating the music to fit. Indeed, the only references to Japan are couple of weak jokes and Katy Tuxford's wonderful set, all pagodas and tea houses.

The colour that she injects is multiplied by costume designer Candy Arbuckle, who ensures that her men are no shrinking violets with suits in that colour, as well as the brightest orange and yellow.

The plot is fairly pure G and S with cute, wide-eyed ingénue Yum Yum, played by Claire Lomas, in love with a rather underpowered Nanki-Poo (Alex Brown). This is a problem as she is already betrothed to her eccentric guardian Ko-Ko, played by the excellent Ben Farrow drawing on strong influences from Jerry Lewis and Groucho Marx.

The evilly villainous Katisha is played by gravelly-voiced Erin Carter, looking exactly like Siouxie Sioux as she threateningly struts around the stage, desperate for a man to eat alive. At the advent of the Mikado himself, a very camp Richard Meek complete with white Liberace suit, she finally has her way.

At one point, the balance is threatened as Louisa Copperthwaite playing Pitti-Sing, supposedly a supporting little maid, demonstrates far too much talent for the part, almost upstaging both Yum Yum and Katisha with a wonderful voice and powerful delivery.

The music delivered by a talented young quartet, energetically supported by three of the actresses, is an eclectic mix varying from Big Band swing to jazz, gospel to soul and boogie with strong elements of Glenn Miller and the Andrews Sisters. In most cases, this complements the original well and for those who like the more traditional version, Tit-Willow is almost untouched.

The accompanying choreography and dance is rarely less than exciting which is a complement both to the cast, most of whom seem to have had dance training, and also to choreographer, Racky Plews.

This kind of production lives or dies on its verve and energy and the toe-tapping tunes, leading up to a big finale, together with a great look and the real enthusiasm of the cast should ensure that it sells well.

"Hot Mikado" plays until 30th January

Reviewer: Philip Fisher