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.