The Savoy Theatre, originally a Victorian construction but now an art deco palace beautifully restored after a devastating fire in 1990, was built to house the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, so it's entirely appropriate that the latest production, which opened on June 27, should be one of their best known and most topical works, The Mikado.
As an art form, Gilbert and Sullivan's shows have had something of a roller coaster run in terms of critical reception and public appeal. Hugely popular in the last decades of the nineteenth century, when they were composed, they suffered from the usual backlash in terms of public taste before reasserting themselves at intervals during the twentieth century.
The D'Oyly Carte opera company, which held the rights to their works, suffered a considerable decline in its artistic fortunes, and for a while it looked as if "G and S," as they were often known, would be consigned to the amateur circuit, like another great home-grown musical talent, Ivor Novello — whose name, these days, is primarily known through the annual pop music awards that bear his name.
A handful of stunning productions — including Tim Curry in The Pirates of Penzance at Drury Lane — have proved that, in the right hands, G and S's works are as entertaining and commercial as any other well-performed musical, and the Jonathan Miller version of The Mikado , which was playing at the Coliseum earlier this year, has proved one of English National Opera's most consistent money-spinners of recent years. Spin is one of the issues of The Mikado which, despite being set in Japan, is essentially about British society and government, as Ian Judge's production at the Savoy, designed by Tim Goodchild, makes clear.
The satire inherent in the musical is given an extra edge by having one of Britain's best-known comedians, Jasper Carrott, play a lead role (Ko Ko, the Lord High Executioner), whose explanation to the Mikado of why his (Ko Ko's) statement that Nanki-Poo had been executed was indeed correct even though he hadn't been, is astonishingly topical in that it is the essence of modern "spin."
—By Paul Webb Theatrenow