The Mikado

Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado is a work that is in many ways very problematic, due to its fetishising and cultural stereotyping of the Japanese, written at the height of the British Empire. Performing it tastefully without being reduced to mere exaggerated stereotypes is therefore incredibly difficult, and few performances do this particularly successfully, as it is written through such an English lens of Japan, down to the very names Nanki-Poo and Yum Yum. 

The music does Gilbert and Sullivan justice, capturing all the wit and wordplay the work merits

For the most part, Edinburgh-based Gilbert and Sullivan Company ‘Cat-Like Tread’ manage to avoid many of the racial slurs other productions fall into, but it is always difficult to watch something like The Mikado, which presents Japan (or its fantasy parallel) in such a farcical light, performed by an all-white cast and not squirm a little, even if it is largely the text’s fault. Whilst originally written to satirise the failings of the British Government, no modern parallel is created, putting glaring focus on the Japonaise aspect of the work instead.

Political-correctness aside, there really is some very good quality singing, especially for an amateur company whose sole purpose is to perform at the Fringe. The cast is very young, and there are some very talented individuals: Pooh-Bah does a smashing job as the pompously power-hungry Lord High Chief Justice Minister Archbishop of Everything Ever; Pitti-Sing is also particularly strong in this performance, with a particular aptitude for acting. Yum-Yum performs beautifully, doing her solos plenty of justice. Ko-Ko and Nanki-Poo sing very well, but are a little more wooden in some of their scenes. Katisha is exquisite in her portrayal of the beautifully shouldered crone, but again could have greater emotional variety in some of her singing; she simply isn’t terrifying enough.

Stylistically speaking, the music does Gilbert and Sullivan justice, capturing all the wit and wordplay the work merits. The music surpasses the acting, and some of the early blocking is a little vague and inaccurate. Space is ill-defined throughout, with little done to establish location and space. Furthermore, the round layout of the room means that people sat on the sides of the stage are likely to miss much of the action, as the blocking is very much directed downstage. Some of the scenes contain some fantastic comedic moments, and there are a few very impressive scenes that stood out, such as the Tae Kwon Do Three Little Girls from School are We, or the scene where Katisha first appears, which is beautifully blocked. 

Some of the diction is occasionally lost through lack of enunciation or due to the acoustical implications of the blocking, but for an amateur production, The Mikado is in very many ways an absolute delight. 

Reviews by Fiona Russell

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The Blurb

Nanki-Poo loves Yum-Yum, but she’s betrothed to the Lord High Executioner. The Mikado insists an execution is carried out within a month, so Nanki-Poo volunteers to be beheaded if he can have one month married to Yum-Yum first. Everyone is happy, but when The Mikado arrives, things become topsy-turvy! Will anyone lose their head? Will true love find a way? Come along to Titipu and find out in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Japanese adventure! Cat-Like Tread is an Edinburgh-based G&S company who have enjoyed sold out performances of The Pirates of Penzance (their 2014 debut) and HMS Pinafore (2015).