Gilbert and Sullivan with added jazz hands

The Mikado – Charing Cross Theatre, until 03 January 2015

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 MikadoChX-Press-SRylander-011 (1) (1)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.

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Not alive exactly but definitely resurrected

Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris – Charing Cross Theatre, until 22 November 2014 (tickets)

Jacques Brel embodied his era; his musical style, evocative of a philosophical rat-packer, fitted perfectly with the picture of France seen through the envious eyes of those in the grey, dreary England of energy rationing and emergency IMF loans. For those with intellectual pretensions, how could the Paris of the 1968 student revolt, Godard and the new-wave and, of course, the Satre-quoting, Gauloises-smoking, coffee-shop David Burt, Eve Polycarpou, Gina Beck, Daniel Boys (1) in Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris Photo Scott Rylander (1)inhabitants of the left bank, possibly be resisted?

The extent of the obsession with France shouldn’t be underestimated and Brel came to personify the music (and, yes, he was actually Belgian but no matter). This obsession may explain the staggering fact that, after being scheduled for a two-week run in Cleveland in 1973, this show ran for more than two years and over 500 performances.

However all things must pass and interests move on to the next big thing. Brel has become something of a forgotten man, and nowadays I am not sure how many people under 40 have heard of him. One might suggest that the producers have taken rather a risk on reviving this rather curious show; would people who have never heard of Brel be interested in coming to see it, and would those who like Brel want to see his songs be reinterpreted through a musical revue?

These are tough questions but one of the answers lies in the talent of the performers. This is an opportunity to see a West End cast in an atmospheric and intimate venue. Gina Beck has previous as Glinda in Wicked, Daniel Boys came to prominence in the TV talent show, Any Dream Will Do, whilst David Burt and Eve Polycarpou are veterans of stage and screen. Watching up close you are reminded of the range and subtlety that West End stars possess – items that can get lost by the demands of performing in a 1000 seat venue with full-on technical wizardry.

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