Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male The Mikado at Richmond Theatre

Following the triumph of last year’s HMS Pinafore, Sasha Regan and her boys are back with a new adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Transporting the story of Yum-Yum, Nanki-Poo, Ko-Ko and friends from Japan to a campsite in 1950s England, the show continues the signature blend of charm, humour and surprising (in a good way) vocals that’s proved such a winning formula in previous productions.

Shortly before the show began, I heard someone in the row behind hinting that they might start singing along, which served as a helpful reminder that The Mikado is a wildly popular and well-known show. (He didn’t sing along, by the way.) However, to me it was entirely new, and I could hardly have asked for a more unconventional – or enjoyable – introduction to an already quite bizarre little tale.

Photo credit: Stewart McPherson

For the similarly uninitiated, here’s a brief summary: Nanki-Poo (Richard Munday), the son of the Mikado (James Waud), has run away from the prospect of being married off to the elderly Katisha (Alex Weatherhill), and disguised as a wandering minstrel has arrived in Titipu in pursuit of the young, beautiful Yum-Yum (Alan Richardson). Unfortunately she’s about to marry Ko-Ko (David McKechnie), the recently appointed Lord High Executioner – but he has his own problems, as he’s been condemned to death for flirting and therefore faces the “extremely difficult, not to say dangerous” prospect of having to behead himself. Meanwhile, all the officials have resigned in protest over Ko-Ko’s appointment, leaving Pooh-Bah (Ross Finnie) to take on every other position of authority in town. Chaos, not surprisingly, ensues.

Sasha Regan’s inspiration for the all male format came from memories of same-sex school plays, and despite all the grisly talk of beheadings, The Mikado retains that air of childlike innocence and fun, particularly once the “ladies” enter – though I’d have to say the standard of the performance far exceeds any school play I was ever in. The production itself has the charming simplicity you’d expect from a school camping trip in the Enid Blyton era (Ryan Dawson Laight’s set is essentially three very versatile tents; Ko-Ko’s axe is a cricket bat; and the “orchestra” is musical director Richard Baker on the piano) – but there’s nothing amateur about the vocals. Unsurprisingly, in this department it’s the female roles that are particularly memorable, if only because it’s a surprise to hear men hit such high notes, and do it so beautifully. Alan Richardson and Alex Weatherhill steal the show as Yum-Yum and Katisha with heartfelt and vocally on-the-money solos, but also very believable performances as lovesick women – though Katisha’s vigorous pumping of her bicycle tyres suggests it may not necessarily be love that she’s after.

Photo credit: Stewart McPherson

Whereas the female characters in this production usually get a laugh just by being on stage (as the curtain rises on Act 2, we catch them indulging in a pre-wedding makeover – and possibly enjoying themselves a bit too much), most of the comedy within the plot itself falls to the men. This is particularly true of David McKechnie, whose Cockney rogue Ko-Ko – along with Ross Finnie’s self-important Scottish bureaucrat Pooh-Bah and Richard Munday’s endearingly bewildered Nanki-Poo – handles some tongue-twisting lyrics with great aplomb and spot-on comic timing as he attempts to talk his way out of his fate. And if his “little list” isn’t particularly topical, it’s still great fun (and besides, it’s not like most of our politicians really need any help in looking ridiculous just now).

It seems likely that Sasha Regan and her talented company have another hit on their hands. If you’ve never seen The Mikado before, this is a thoroughly entertaining – if quite mad – first look; if you know it well, it’s a refreshingly different take that makes Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic feel brand new.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

Review: All Male H.M.S. Pinafore at Hackney Empire

As a newcomer not just to H.M.S. Pinafore but to Gilbert and Sullivan in general (hangs head in shame), I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from an all male version of the popular comic opera – but it’s safe to say I’m officially sold. Inspired by memories of childhood productions at her girls only school, director Sasha Regan has assembled a talented and enthusiastic cast who know how to have fun with the concept, but never compromise on the quality of their performance.

This version of H.M.S. Pinafore sees some bored sailors on a World War II battleship entertaining themselves by recreating the story of humble sailor Ralph Rackstraw, who’s in love with his captain’s daughter, Josephine. It seems like Josephine might just feel the same way, but she’s held back by Ralph’s social inferiority and her father’s wish that she should marry the ridiculous (but rich) Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B., the First Lord of the Admiralty. One melodramatic suicide attempt later, the lovers decide to elope but are caught by her father, and all seems lost until the revelation of a bizarre secret sets everything right and brings the story to a neat and happy -if a teeny bit weird – conclusion.

Photo credit: Francis Loney
Photo credit: Francis Loney
The show was written as light entertainment, poking affectionate fun at the English obsession with class, and the allocation of positions of power based on social standing rather than any kind of ability. The main target of the satire is the diminutive and rosy-cheeked Sir Joseph, whose pomposity is softened only by his unfailingly good manners. Michael Burgen plays his character’s absurdities to the max, sharing some particularly enjoyable comic scenes with Neil Moors’ Captain Corcoran. 

But there’s additional enjoyment to be had here in watching the male actors camp it up in the female roles, a task to which they devote themselves with great enthusiasm. It’s an idea that could have gone horribly wrong – but any fears that the all male casting might lead the show to feel gimmicky, or that the quality of the musical numbers could suffer from the absence of female voices, are quickly dispelled by some fabulous performances from male and female characters alike, backed by musical director Richard Bates on piano. Ben Irish, in particular, is exquisite as Josephine, his clear, beautiful falsetto hitting the high notes with enviable ease.

Photo credit: Francis Loney
Photo credit: Francis Loney
Lizzi Gee’s choreography is slick and polished, and the show is full of energy and movement, so there’s literally never a dull moment, whether the actors are somersaulting or skipping across the set. The simple staging, which sees a rope, a few boxes and some bunk beds used to great creative effect, is a charming reminder that sometimes you don’t need big budgets, an enormous orchestra or complex special effects to make fantastic theatre, as long as you’ve got enthusiasm, energy and a desire to entertain – oh, and a few catchy tunes. These are things this production and its fantastic cast have in buckets, and the result is as enjoyable to watch as any lavish West End show. Highly recommended.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉