Review: NZ Opera performs The Mikado

James Clayton sings the Mikado - otherwise known as the emperor of Japan - in this contemporary Gilbert and Sullivan ...
David Rowland

James Clayton sings the Mikado - otherwise known as the emperor of Japan - in this contemporary Gilbert and Sullivan production.

Review: Harajuku girls, jibes at both Donald Trump and "overbearing fitness freaks", and a guffawing audience are not what one might expect from a night at the opera.

But the Mikado is anarchic; a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta whose 131-year-old lines got just as many knowing cackles last night as the cheeky references slipped in by this production's director, Stuart Mauder.

It's a satire of British bureaucracy, played out for some reason in Japan - which does lend itself to stunning set design and costume. 

Kimonos were switched for harajuku outfits, more befitting contemporary "little maids from school".
David Rowland

Kimonos were switched for harajuku outfits, more befitting contemporary "little maids from school".

Maunder's stage is a fresh delight, or, as he puts it, "basically like you've been let loose in one of those glorious Japanese stationary stores". He's all but replaced the kimono with harajuku dresses and pays tribute to Hello Kitty, yet retains the oriental elegance expected from Mikado sets.

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The excellent cast included Byron Coll, who makes for an endearing and unprecedentedly Scottish Lord High Executioner (though Coll himself is a Kiwi), Amelia Berry owns fiery and aptly named Yum-Yum, and Andrew Collis deadpans the self-important Pooh-Bah hilariously.

Bryan Coll as Ko-Ko, the lord high executioner, put on a flawless and unexpected Scottish accent throughout.
David Rowland

Bryan Coll as Ko-Ko, the lord high executioner, put on a flawless and unexpected Scottish accent throughout.

Their scenes are twisting, flippant on death, and crackling with wit.

The love-struck son of the Mikado, Nanki-Poo - played by Jonathan Abernathy - disguises himself as a minstrel to flee the imperial court and escape marriage to the elderly and "teeny weeny wee bit bloodthirsty" Katisha, played by Helen Medlyn.

He seeks Yum-Yum, a schoolgirl who had just been betrothed to her warden, Ko-Ko the Lord High Executioner of Titipu. Ko-Ko had previously been condemned to death for flirting but, "wafted by a favouring gale", ended up in the city's highest station.

Andrew Collis and Jonathan Abernathy embrace their respective roles as Pooh-Bah and Naki-Poo.
DAVID ROWLAND

Andrew Collis and Jonathan Abernathy embrace their respective roles as Pooh-Bah and Naki-Poo.

Too soft hearted to actually behead people but prepared "if someday it may happen that a victim must be found" - Ko-Ko has a list of irritating social offenders who "never would be missed".

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This list makes each new production of The Mikado worth checking, as it has been regularly updated since the first edition in 1885.

Maunder's reincarnation includes a certain "orange tinted Fuhrer who would like to build a wall", mustachioed aunties who insist on being kissed, and "the man who sits beside you on the plane who wants to talk, whose jabbering inspires you to jab him with your fork".

The Mikado opened on Tuesday night at the ASB Waterfront Theatre, and is headed for both Wellington and Christchurch.
David Rowland

The Mikado opened on Tuesday night at the ASB Waterfront Theatre, and is headed for both Wellington and Christchurch.

Absurdity ensues, plus a lot of flippant discourse on death, as the production romps through witty ditties and flamboyant switches of garb

It's become cliched to criticise the Mikado for use of 'yellow face' - which was not overtly applied in this production - and for originally wielding the N word (which has been cut from all productions). Some viewers, including my seat-buddy, find those hangovers from 1885 a lingering irk. Perceived racial overtones depend on where along the PC spectrum you sit, however.

The show is fast-paced, funny, and fabulous all the way through and NZ Opera has done itself proud. Opening night at Auckland's ASB Waterfront theatre on Tuesday sold out, and that audience left grinning.

The Mikado plays Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in February and March.

 - Stuff

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