site search by freefind advanced

 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Watermill - Hot Mikado

12th July to 2nd September 2006.

From The Times.

Four stars
Don’t be put off by the title. If the air conditioning in the Watermill didn’t work, Craig Revel Horwood’s 14-person cast would have ended up incinerated by a killer-mix of their own energy and the encroaching heat wave. But this tiny, unpretentious theatre is hot in another sense, having just picked up two Tony awards for its revival of Sweeney Todd, including one for Sarah Travis, who has again excelled herself in arranging Robert Bowman’s 1985 version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s score.

And even if, like me, you are a Savoy Opera aficionado, don’t be put off by the way she and Bowman have jazzed up G and S. Yes, the mixture of felt hats, vests and sashes on display suggests that they’ve tumbled out of an outré nightclub in the Greenwich Village section of old Tokyo. But I defy anyone to resist the performers’ exuberance and professionalism — and any red or even pink- blooded male not to be enchanted by Nicola Hughes’s Yum-Yum, who combines wit, charisma, a strong singing voice and even a bit of twinkle in the toe department.

As in the original, she’s beloved by Nanki-Poo, heir to the throne but disguised as a wandering musican, yet affianced to Ko-Ko, who is Lord High Executioner. Gilbert’s story survives, along with many of his lyrics, though some are hard to hear since, in keeping with the Watermill’s eccentric aesthetic, almost every cast member also has a trumpet, sax or clarinet to blast. But I did pick up the gratifying fact that Jeffrey Harmer’s Ko-Ko now has celebrity worshippers and Sven-Göran Eriksson on his famous little list. Anyway, the three little maids become the hyped-up Andrews Sisters of Titibu. Sing a Merry Madrigal escalates into Swing a Merry Madrigal. Junix Inocian’s imposing Mikado arrives telling his subjects to “chill out”, which happily they don’t, preferring to bop and tap when he reveals his Object All Sublime. Tit Willow is little changed, but surprisingly funny, thanks to the joint reactions of Karen Mann’s maudlin Katisha and her bourbon bottle to its sentiments and sentimentalities. But where were The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring? Maybe I missed them in the hubbub of torch songs, gospel and all that jazz. Inocian gets an inevitable laugh when he says: “If Gilbert and Sullivan could see me now.” But I’m not sure Gilbert at least would have minded. Didn’t he say that nothing was as bad as respectability? And respectable The Hot Mikado isn’t.


From the Sunday Times.

Three stars
Makeover Mikados are pretty familiar, but Craig Revel Horwood’s production is a remake of a remake, distantly related to an American 1940s Cotton Club version seen in the West End in 1995. Plot and tunes are just about Gilbert and Sullivan, but the setting could be anywhere, from Harlem to Haight-Ashbury. The tiny stage is almost too small to contain the energy of an enthusiastic cast of 14 actor-musicians, who have added tap dancing to the many skills that these Watermill shows demand. Andrew Alexander’s Nanki-Poo is an amiable flute-and-trumpet-playing hippie hunk; Nicola Hughes is larger than life in all respects as Yum Yum. These American musical types contrast entertainingly with Jeffrey Harmer’s bank manager of a Lord High Executioner and Ian Conningham as an escapee from EastEnders with a mean drum solo. The pace is relentless, and I started to long for some Victorian sweetness as Sullivan’s melodies were remorselessly trashed. No let-up here, though, and if you can imagine Karen Mann’s magnificent Katisha as Shirley Bassey and Louis Armstrong rolled up together and stuffed into a miniskirted kimono, you will know what to expect.


From The Independent.

Eleven years ago, London was given a treat - an exuberant production of The Hot Mikado, Rob Bowman and David H Bell's reconstruction of the 1939 show in which a black company made Gilbert and Sullivan hep to the jive. Sadly, this terrific show, with zoot-suited courtiers brandishing fans like flick knives, met with public indifference. It has now been given the Watermill treatment of using actors who can not only sing and dance but play musical instruments.

The production has also been "youthified", a step that means adding lines and business ("You piss me off!"; little maids who fondle their pubic mounds while smirking at the audience) in contemporary style.

The result is not only coarseness but monotony, as the show's moments of unexpected, transcendent beauty are trodden into the general murk. However, the energy, if at times misguided, maintains a high level, and the musical and vocal skills are higher still.


From the Guardian.

Two stars
"If Gilbert and Sullivan could see me now," cries one of the hoofers in David Bell and Robert Bowman's musical mugging of the 19th-century operetta. If they could it seems unlikely that they would entirely disapprove. Their timeless tale of Yum-Yum and would-be husband Nanki-Poo has been transposed to a Titty-poo that is more American than Japanese, where the three little maids seem to be gearing up for careers in pole dancing, southern-fried sushi is the dish of the day and the characters constantly seem surprised that they can read Japanese.

As a concept it works well enough, and director Craig Revel Horwood and his musician-actor cast give it so much welly that it seems as if the tiny stage might spontaneously combust from all the body heat being expended. So why did it leave me so cold? Perhaps because a couple of years back I caught another production of this show at the Gatehouse in Highgate, and while it had none of this evening's slick production values, it had oodles more charm. Revel Horwood's overproduced show combined with Sarah Travis's overcomplicated arrangements never let down its slick, all-singing, all-tap-dancing front for a second, but because of this it is a brassy and brazen evening that you admire without ever really liking. It is a lesson in how rough-around-the-edges can sometimes be more appealing than in-your-face cavorting.

While it's true that Gilbert and Sullivan's original version is as short on real character as it is on plot, this production compounds the problem with actors so busy belting out the next tune or engaged in the next hyperactive dance number that they simply don't have time to do any acting. Stylish and silly, yes; sizzling, no.


From the Newbury Weekly News.

Summer sizzler

Steaming... that's the verdict on Craig Revel Horwood's lascivious Hot Mikado

Hot Mikado at The Watermill, Bagnor, until September 2

Director Craig Revel Horwood meets Gilbert and Sullivan at The Watermill and the consequence is an explosive firecracker of a show.

The 14 actor/musicians dazzled the audience on the first Friday with a performance which, amazingly on this small stage, included big dance numbers, not only tap, rock 'n' roll, swing and even marching, but also touches of tai chi and occasionally those little tittupy steps associated with the original Mikado.

Against a simple background, using window screens to give a kabuki-look to the theatre, the performers produced a gloriously slick, energetic torrent of sound punched straight at the audience.

Here were three gorgeous little maids like you've never seen them, with Nicola Hughes (Yum-Yum), Helen Power (Pitti-Sing) and Georgina Field (Peep-Bo), bodies on the writhe, eyelashes batting, giving it their all - and then some. Craig wanted them to have "the most lascivious manner possible". They succeeded and were funny as well.

Months of gruelling casting has produced a superb set of actors not only brilliant individually, but working together with immense vitality and expertise to create a hilarious whizzbang of an evening.

Much of the original script is retained and it was good to hear an audience laughing at what was always very funny dialogue.

Some lyrics have undergone changes, but Ko-Ko (Jeffrey Harmer) still has a little list, and Katisha (Karen Mann brilliantly alternating between virago and rejected love) continues to have a left shoulder-blade of distinction.

This is not a production for those who like their entertainment quiet and tender, though Nicola Hughes' superb gospel-like rendering of The Sun Whose Rays, sung standing on a baby grand piano comes nearest to it.

That same piano takes the strain of Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo's (Andrew Alexander) passion, so nearly boiling over as they sang of what would have happened were Yum-Yum not engaged to Ko-ko. Magnificent stuff.

Award-winning musical director Sarah Travis who describes the score as one of the hardest ever "but this cast make it seem simple", not only manipulated the music into mood-catching great arrangements but actually got to be on stage playing piano as Ting-Tong - and having a good time she says.

In this cast of stars Ian Conningham (Pooh Bah) shone as brightly as any and this Lord High-Everything-Else had shades of the Artful Dodger and Steptoe mixed with Pop Larkin. The result - hilarity.

Craig Revel Horwood and his team have produced a joyous masterpiece which you must see, no question.

The Mikado (Junix Inocian) says on his entry: "If Gilbert and Sullivan could see me now!"

If they could, they'd have wide smiles on their faces like the rest of us. Another Watermill triumph.


From the Telegraph.

Steamy antics turn up the heat

After winning two Tony Awards in New York for its outstanding production of Sweeney Todd, the Watermill Theatre is back with another of its marvellous musical makeovers.

On the warmest day of the year, the Hot Mikado undoubtedly lived up to its title, leaving the cast bathed in sweat as they performed this hyper-energetic show in which they triple up as actors, hoofers and musicians. They nevertheless managed to look as though they were having a ball, and the audience raised the roof with approval at the end.

There is an established tradition of mucking about with The Mikado. As long ago as the late 1930s, two rival versions, the Swing Mikado and the Hot Mikado, both featuring black companies and jazzed-up arrangements of Sullivan's score, were competing for trade on Broadway.

This version derives from an interracial staging first seen in Washington in the 1980s, which presented G&S's most popular operetta as if it were being staged in Harlem's Cotton Club in the 1940s.

As always, however, the Watermill has made the show entirely its own. Musical director Sarah Travis, who won a Tony for her arrangements of Sweeney Todd, miraculously retains Sullivan's matchless original melodies, while presenting them in the styles of swing, gospel, soul, blues and even a touch of hard rock.

The provocatively sexy three little maids from school double on trumpet, saxophone and percussion. Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, plays the clarinet and looks like Benny Goodman, while the Mikado plays electric guitar, revealing a penchant for the famous riff from Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water.

Craig Revel Horwood's production, if occasionally a touch too manic for its own good, fully succeeds in creating its own utterly distinctive world. Some of the stage effects may have been lifted from Kabuki, but the performers, costumed in a clever mixture of traditional Japanese and Western dress, in which kimonos are combined with pin-stripe suits, bear a strong resemblance to Manga cartoon characters. The staging thus seems simultaneously traditional and hip, just like the musical arrangements.

But like Sullivan's score, a great deal of Gilbert's original humour survives, despite the modern gloss, and the preposterous but engaging story is really made to count amid the exuberant displays of musicianship and choreography that ranges from full-ensemble tap routines to athletic displays of jive dancing.

Nicola Hughes, who always offers superb value and ought to be a major star, must be the yummiest Yum-Yum of them all. She exudes both a wicked sense of humour and a sizzling sexuality, and her routines with Andrew Alexander's Nanki-Poo on top of a baby grand deserve to get them both arrested. Hughes also has a superbly strong and soulful voice, heard to tremendous effect as she admires her own beauty in The Sun and I.

There's tremendous value, too, from Karen Mann, one of the Watermill's musical stalwarts, as a splendidly malevolent, hatchet-faced Katisha, who prompts a mass exodus when she announces that she's looking for a new man. Her magnificently powerful, blues-wailing voice put me in mind of Janis Joplin at her most abandoned and sends shivers down the spine.

Among the chaps Jeffrey Harmer has exactly the right endearing amiability as Ko-Ko, but could usefully sharpen up the contents of his little list. Ian Conningham plays Pooh-Bah with insolent panache, and Junix Inocian's Mikado is never more sinister than when laughing uproariously.

Strictly traditional Savoyards may bridle, but one leaves this most idyllic of British theatres in no doubt that it has a summertime smash on its hands.


From Kick FM.

A jazzy rock version of Gilbert and Sullivan that will appeal to all ages. It’s another Watermill actor/musician show but this time they pack 14 of them, including musical director Sarah Travis, onto the tiny stage to sing, dance and play. It’s a sexy production – if the three little maids had behaved like that at my school they’d have been expelled – and it’s a breathtaking display, full of energy. I loved it, and there were some excellent performances. I particularly liked Karen Mann, a regular in these Watermill shows, as Katisha, and Geoffrey Harmer as Ko-Ko; the two of them have a lovely drunken version of Tit-Willow at the end.


There are also reviews by The Stage ("to say that the production is sensational is no understatement ... charged with an electric fervour that carries the production into the heights of musical satire and beyond"), Reviews Gate ("everything about Hot Mikado is extreme, sound, design, lighting music, performances and a feeling that the Watermill is about to take off in a blaze of delight") and What's on Stage ("the atmosphere is as heady as a rock concert." Four stars).