Photos – Jeff Busby
Opera Australia's lavish production of The Mikado succeeds in doing justice to the colourful whimsy and pointed fakery of Gilbert & Sullivan's classic. Perhaps the story of love, death and social standing in exotic climes is so enduring because it still has things to say to us today; perhaps it's simply frivolous and feelgood fun.
Despite thoroughly enjoying the show, it was hard not to notice the significant number of empty seats and the slightly muted appreciation of the crowd. Opera Australia has fallen on hard times of late and has been making a concerted effort to broaden its commercial appeal and operations. Maybe this explains the choice of The Mikado in the first instance – one of the most-performed and best-loved operettas ever, and certainly one of the funniest and most easily accessible. It almost certainly explains the appearance of an iPad during Ko-Ko's little list song.
Speaking of which – Mitchell Butel's Ko-Ko is nerdy, brash and occasionally a bit too wild, but ultimately loveable and manages to carry the show with the help of Kanen Breen's old-boy charm as Nanky-Poo. Butel's physical performance and vocal style recall his leading role as Princeton in Avenue Q. Indeed, it's tempting to characterise this whole production as having the spirit of Gilbert & Sullivan with the sensibilities of Avenue Q. Worldly innocence and sexual energy dance a complicated rhythm and are never spared from being employed for comic effect.
Taryn Fiebig's Yum-Yum is sweet but never steals the scene – her sisters are more seductive. Warwick Fyfe gives a plump, brooding and understated performance as befits the Lord High Everything Else, while Jacqueline Dark's jilted lover Katisha switches disconcertingly from demonic to diva in a way that is most entertaining. Richard Alexander's brief but memorable turn as The Mikado captures all the ersatz empathy and ruthless disinterest of the ruling class that Gilbert no doubt hoped to insinuate.
In short, it was an enjoyable performance I will look back on with fondness. Others have suggested that The Mikado may not be great art, but is great, over-the-top fun. I'm not sure I agree with the need for that distinction. My relatives from rural Queensland would have utterly adored the show, as they have precious little access either to great art or to great over-the-top fun. A pity then that they missed it on their recent visit. Perhaps we are too spoiled for choice in entertainment in Melbourne and Sydney. Best of luck to Opera Australia in expanding their reach with great productions like this in future.
Opera Australia presents
by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
Director Stuart Maunder based on the production by Christopher Renshaw
Venue: State Theatre, The Arts Centre, Melbourne
Dates: May 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 2011
Times: Evenings at 7:30pm; matinee at 1pm: May 21, 28
Duration: approx. two hours, forty minutes including one twenty-minute interval
Tickets: $55 - $140
Bookings: (03) 9685 3700 | www.opera-australia.org.au
Performed in English with English surtitles