Review: The Mikado

First published in the Guardian on 15 May, 2016

When The Mikado premiered at the Savoy Theatre in 1885, its opening run went on and on for 672 shows. Non-devotees might well question the timelessness of mock Orientalism and flagrant misogyny, but Gilbert and Sullivan’s capital punishment rom-com has always been a money maker and Scottish Opera — styling itself as a G&S stronghold after 2013’s The Pirates of Penzance and last year’s HMS Pinafore — accordingly tours this new production right into July.

Director Martin Lloyd-Evans has created something utterly reliable and palatable, which for me misses the whole subversive point of G&S. Designs by Dick Bird are a colourful mash of Victoriana steampunk meets Wild West meets Geisha chic. A few lines of satire have been updated with mild pokes at tax evaders and Volkswagen (“dodgy dieselists; sie sind on my list”), while Nicola Sturgeon is obvious fodder given her surname is a fish — which, yes, rhymes with list. Oh for some properly wicked satire. More wearying are the unchallenged race and gender stereotypes, with Yum-Yum (a spry-voiced Rebecca Bottone) portrayed as a silly young thing and Katisha (the rich-toned Rebecca de Pont Davies) a ghoulish Tim Burton-esque Miss Havisham.

The overture needed a decent kickstart but generally the orchestra mustered sufficient bounce and decorum under David Steadman, and the fine cast includes Nicholas Sharratt’s sweet and lyrical Nanki-Poo plus some seasoned G&S-ers: it would be hard not to warm to the exquisite timing and pathos of Richard Suart’s hapless Ko-Ko.