Gilbert and Sullivan are never going to appeal some people. High-brow opera aficionados will most likely turn their nose up in distaste whilst theatre connoisseurs will wryly shake their head before searching out a disused prison for the latest in immersive theatre. People who don’t go the theatre will probably just be entirely baffled by the whole experience.
For those who like Gilbert and Sullivan the joy is that they manage to keep themselves outside of any particular bracket. They are just who they are, and you feel that their operettas achieve precisely what they wanted them to achieve. Make no mistake: The Mikado is an absolutely ludicrous show and so much better for it. Thom Southerland, who has a number of recent notable fringe musical successes under his belt, understands this and pitches the show in a bizarre 1930’s factory that makes absolutely no logical sense to the plot but which allows a free-wheeling lunacy to give the show a hugely infectious, if slightly demented, charm.
Southerland’s choice of location helps remove the focus from Japan, and as a result some of the slightly more knuckle-chewingly inappropriate reference points are adroitly side-stepped. In fact the result of updating the plot is that it actually makes it easier to see how Gilbert and Sullivan could be a precursor to the likes of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, and perhaps they deserve more recognition in the creation of what we understand musicals to be. Anything Goes is one of the great musicals but the plot itself is pure hokum, and really how different is The Mikado? Both are full of memorable songs, some great jokes and end in marriages.
The link to American musicals is aided by some sparkling choreography from two-time Tony Award nominee, Joey McKneely. It is quite clear that McKneely is someone who knows what they are doing. He has drilled the ensemble into some fine, spirited work on a small stage. Indeed some of the energy is so high you worry that they are about to tip off the front and severely disrupt the two folk bashing away on the baby grand pianos that provide the musical accompaniment.