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London review: THE MIKADO English National Opera at the London Coliseum

By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

In my quest for the experience of "full-on British" as it is known here, Gilbert & Sullivan's Mikado seemed irresistible; who knows what might be next—fish and chips wrapped in newspaper? an excursion to Brighton for a panto? a cricket match? Self-satire is the theme of this evening, which spent in this gorgeous opera house, was delightful.

Part musical theater, part comic opera, this late 19th century show is not only beloved by the British public (many of whom seem to know all the delightful and complicated lyrics), but this was the 15th revival of Jonathan Miller's legendary production. Miller (now 81) appeared at the end for many ecstatic curtain calls.

With an opulent set—an all-white Grand Hotel— an enormous cast, and a chorus of singers and dancers reminiscent of Busby Berkley movies, it is a stunning spectacle. And, impressively, with thousands in the audience and millions watching the live broadcast, nobody wore a mike.

The plot is preposterous: the son of the tyrannical Mikado of Japan (Robert Lloyd), Nanki-Poo (Anthony Gregory) is in love with Yum-Yum (glorious-voiced Mary Bevan). They cannot marry because Yum-Yum is betrothed to Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner played with wondrous gusto by Richard Suart, wearing a hair-do and moustache that hover somewhere between Charlie Chaplin and Hitler.  There are, of course, disguises ("a wandring minstrel I, a thing of shreds and patches") and last-minute rescues.

G & S were satirizing Victorian English society, with its prudery and political privileges, and depending on its ignorance of Japan; Miller's dazzling re-invention nicely sidesteps political incorrectness and concentrates on the fun.