April 26, 2007
‘Hot Mikado’ is set in 1930s Japan; a Japan where accents are American and the population repeatedly forgets that they are Japanese. It is a 1980s revival of a 1930s adaptation of the 19th-century Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, ‘The Mikado’…and thankfully it is a show where detail, fact and accuracy are completely irrelevant. ‘Hot Mikado’ as performed by Oxfordshire Youth Music Theatre is real sumptuous fun.
Oxford Playhouse, 25-28 April 2007
Against such an implausible setting, ‘Hot Mikado’ allows for all aspects of the production to be exaggerated, rough and playful – anything goes. There were, for example, performers who pulled off polished routines (the male lead paying the character of Ko-Ko was captivatingly camp) and conversely less confident cast members whose understated dance routines contributed a further dimension to the performance. Similarly, there were moments where physical comedy, wit and timing were expertly synchronized to deliver a scene of sheer professionalism while there were also occasions where lines were stumbled upon and voices squeaked. Interestingly, these contrasts are representative of a very Japanese concept – Japan is known as the ‘land of opposites’ where extremes live side-by-side.
The costumes again toyed with the idea of representing historical accuracy and then actually put forward something a whole lot more amusing. The men were dressed in overstated 1930s-style suits including some tasty 30s-meets-80s fluorescent yellow and green numbers. Accessories were skilfully incorporated into routines and became integral to the characters’ identities – the clumsy Pooh-Bah seemed have a difficult relationship with his spectacles whereby they jumped about the stage uncontrollably – expertly manoeuvred by the actor. The ladies were treated to silky kimonos and brightly coloured leggings: traditional Japanese dress meets Primark.
The live orchestra performed jazz, swing and blues numbers with energy and the show maintained its momentum throughout. The dancing was again a cheerful blend of talented artists with less-skilled but always enthusiastic participants. The choreography was shrewdly designed to allow those with ability to subtlety stand out while those with no training could have a good old boogie; the cast really seemed to be enjoying themselves.
It’s not often one gets to go to the theatre and experience such an unpretentious, lively and varied performance. It certainly wasn’t a polished production but the imperfections highlighted moments of genuine unprocessed talent.