Review: The Mikado at Nuffield Theatre

Mixed Bag

Some excellent vocals, comic timing and orchestral numbers were sadly marred by a failure to portray the full depth of the narrative.

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The Mikado is perhaps one of the most enduring operas. The Gilbert & Sullivan classic is set in Japan, where the easy attitude to death, flimsiness of authority and approach to flirtation all set to make a political commentary on the state of the British Government. While Nuffield’s most recent production, supported by LopSoc, kept much of this essence, the story got lost as the actors failed to portray the narrative.

The beginning was, in fact, the main issue. Starting with three children, the idea is that they play with (and bring to life) sets of origami figures before seeing their story play out. But the actors just appeared to be running around the stage and the narrative did not come across (I was left researching the plot on my phone 20 minutes in so that I could understand it). It is a real shame, as Gilbert & Sullivan’s plays are known for lacking character development and relying on simple plots and powerful vocal. In this instance, even the simple plot was not conveyed. Thankfully, after this, the plot of the figures themselves was clear, but the show still lacked the dimension of understanding that the characters were figments of three children’s conflicting imaginations.

The performances varied. On the whole, the less said about the choreography, the better! It was often overly simple, and appeared to be entirely unnecessary, and then still frequently people were out of time. The vocal performances ranged. I was amazed by the Mikado and Katisha, whose performances were simply outstanding. Katisha, especially, showed herself to be worthy of professional status. The shame, though, is that their stand-out vocal did leave the others lacking somewhat, especially in the case of Nanki-Poo, whose voice appeared to strain a little towards the end of numbers. That being said, though, the vocals were impressive overall, and it is worth note that no lines were missed, an impressive feat given the complexity and sheer volume of lyrical verses within the play.

Also specifically worth note is Pooh-Bah (or Lord High Everything Else), whose Alan Rickman-esque portrayal of authority was remarkable; for a play with little character development, he made me love the character. He also managed to bring in a distinct comic element with well timed and snarky comments. Indeed, the whole production was a little updated (at times talking about iPhones and computer games), and this did add a level of comedy appropriate to the modern audience. It was a shame though, and this may be a timing problem, that the costumes were not more elaborate and pronounced. Gilbert & Sullivan are known for their over-the-top presentation, and the costumes were a little plain and uninteresting. Specific praise, though, should go to the excellent orchestra that kept to the highest standards at all times. I was thoroughly impressed by the level of musical talent that was on show, and they easily showed themselves to be a professional set.

Overall, the performance was good, and it would likely have achieved more recognition if it were not for the flawed narrative at the beginning, that sadly cost this production a dimension it ought to have gained.

The Mikado wraps up with a matinee and evening performance tonight (18th February).


About Author

Philosopher and Historian and major pop-fan. You can find me listening to most pop in the charts (Beyoncé and Sia are most certainly goddesses), as well as some modern jazz and classical and enjoing the occasional trip to the theatre. I'm also interested in the repurcussions of the representation of sex in modern-day media! And I might be a fan of the X Factor. Sorry, I can't help it...


  1. I went to this show last Friday and found it very enjoyable, the new setting was clever and not at all hard to follow… I wonder if we watched the same show at all?

    • The setting was the same as that in the original Gilbert and Sullivan play? It was the narrative that I think was hard to follow (I.e that the beginning was three children who then bought figures to life). That dimension did not come across, and I briefly went round and asked people during the interval and got the same answer from them (I was at the performance on Thursday evening).

      • The libretto was the same as the original Gilbert and Sullivan play, however the origami introduction with the children that you’re referring to was added for this particular production, you don’t find that in a traditional production of the show.

        • Some other production have had it in, just by a quick googling, though it was not in the original. Either way it made little (Or no) sense what was going on for the first ten minutes and if this was not understood the presence of the children for the remainder of the play became confusing. If your going to add something, you need to make sure it is powerful and well portrayed enough to cement itself in to the narrative.

  2. Hi Bruno,

    I saw this show on the Wednesday and to be honest I’m not convinced the framing device worked either – there were too many small incongruities like Victorian children playing with plastic hoops and talking about iPhones, and aesthetically they could have done much more with the costumes, makeup and props to really follow up on the premise and make it clear to the audience.

    However, I would like to address your comments – firstly, it should be ‘productions’, and ‘you’re’. Nitpicking on the internet is a dick move, but you’re supposed to be a semi-professional journalist/reviewer. If you’re going to respond to comments on your review then the grammar should at least be correct. Secondly, your comment ‘some other production[sic] had it in, just by a quick googling’ is demonstrably untrue, having tried to ‘quickly google’ it myself. There are no professional productions that I can see that have used this device (certainly none of the ones that I’ve seen!), and if there are other am-dram groups that have then I can’t find them. Feel free to post a link to a version that used this, if you’d like to prove me wrong. To me, this means that you thought the children were a normal part of this show – which means you don’t know the show at all.

    Therefore I think it’s safe to assume that your ‘trouble following the narrative’ comes from you not actually knowing anything about The Mikado as a show, or, I may venture to add, Gilbert and Sullivan productions in general. A lot of the initial plot comes from song lyrics instead of libretto, which can make it very tricky for a first time watcher. By all means, feel free to criticise the show for not making the framing device clear enough (I would even agree with you!) but to ‘not understand the first 10 minutes’ is to not understand the actual, written, original start of the show – and that feels more like a failing on your part, to be honest.

    Sorry for the long comment! Can you tell I’m putting off working on an actual essay?

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