There was an excited buzz outside the Drama Barn on the opening night of the Hot Mikado. It wasn’t just the bitter cold that was tempting the audience inside, but the promise of a comic musical awaiting. The critically acclaimed and very talented team of Rosie Brear, Joe Williams (directors) and Will Descrettes (musical director) put on one of the best shows I have seen at the drama barn to date.
The Hot Mikado was an interesting choice. It was written in 1986 by David H Bell as a jazzed-up satire of ‘The Mikado’ by Gilbert and Sullivan, which in itself is a far from serious musical. So, taking a farcical 19th Century ‘Japanese’ comedy, written by Westerners and scattered with racial jokes, and putting it on at the Drama Barn was something of a risk.
Fortunately, the directors chose an incredible cast to perform the two-hour musical. It had a panto-esque feel (thankfully with less audience participation), and, as we were warned at the door, scenes of a more “raunchy nature” than Gilbert and Sullivan usually went for.
The stock characters were all in play: the goody, baddy and that beautiful girl the entire cast falls in love with. Ko-Ko (Max Fitzroy-Stone) is set to marry Yum Yum (Laura Horton) (you see what I mean about the racial indelicacy). On the afternoon of the wedding, Nanki Poo (Tristan Landymore) turns up, as a disguised musician, and declares his love for Yum Yum. There are twists and turns on the basic love story, such as royal executioners and evil older women, but really the plot is one of the less important things about this play. You are not gripped on the edge of your seat wondering who will get to marry who, but it is the journey that makes the experience. The music and visuals make it an incredibly entertaining evening’s activity.
As in most musical comedies I did find myself sympathizing with the ‘baddie,’ but in this case I think the entire audience will agree that Katisha (Melissa Layton) and Landymore as Nanki Poo shone through. Landymore uses extensive physical humour on stage, never seeming to stand still, and the innumerable different facial expressions that passed across his face throughout the night, made the show come alive. There was never a dull moment in the barn when he was on stage! Layton played the evil protagonist and did it brilliantly. There was an amazing chemistry between these two as actors and my favourite scene of the play was their duet.
I was warned on the way in that “there had been a choreographer”. I had no doubt that the singing would be good, but I feared the worst and foresaw some awkward hand gestures and two-step dances. Although uncomplicated movements, the dance fell into place with the music and worked with no noticeable problems.
The entire performance felt self-aware, the musical was never going to be a serious one yet the laughter seemed to be with the audience, and not out of character. The acting was superb; there were hardly moments where I didn’t feel transported to Japan, especially with the Japenese flag painted on the stage! It was almost believable that these actors were the fluorescent wig-wearing all-singing all-dancing folk in the middle of ‘Titipoo’ (the city where the action is based).
The singing itself was phenomenal. It was backed by an orchestra, and musically spot on. The harmonies and acoustics in the barn worked perfectly. The ensemble added depth to the singing and their presence on stage seemed to illuminate the rest of the cast.
All in all, it was greatly entertaining. I found myself smiling all the way through and for a couple of hours afterwards. If this play was a film, it would definitely fall into the ‘feel-good’ category. Don’t miss it!