MD: Ken Matthews
Assistant MD: Philip Hall
Directors: Jennifer Moss & Richard Straw
It’s been ten years since St Andrews Operatic Society performed The Mikado a show that the society had performed some 9 times since the groups existence some 75 years ago this year; and what a way to start the year, the Mikado is probably the most performed and most loved comic operas of the G and S portfolio and this year it was down to Jennifer Moss and Richard Straw as Directors to turn this opera first performed in March 1885 into the 21 century and what a fantastic performance they turned out. With not a kimono in sight and gone was the lavish Japanese set; all to be replaced with simple Japanese screen which not only dressed the stage but was used effectively to help stage the story in the most effective silhouette form. Also gone was the elaborate traditional costumes to be replaced with the male ensemble in working suits and the female ensemble in black dresses apart from a few principal performers including Ko Ko who wore a Sunderland Football top and The Mikado who was dressed in a black and White costume setting the tone of the North East Derby between the rivals Sunderland AFC and Newcastle United football teams; ingenious and bang up to date; I absolutely loved it. Not all the traditions had been replaced I still got that patriotic feeling at the beginning of the performance when the orchestra play the National Anthem with the whole audience standing to mark their respect. And what a band; an orchestra of 16 talented musicians under the Musical Direction of Ken Matthews supported by Phil Hall; Assistant Musical Director and Accompanist Pam Bell who ensured that this beautiful Score was perfectly played and brought to life and set the tone for the evening’s performance. A big congratulation to the production team who made certain that the show was professionally presented; Alan Besford and his stage team who ensured that stage management was well organised, Bright Star, David Dunbar and Colin and Irene Berry on Lighting and Sound, Elizabeth Dunne on props and Janet Cunningham and Vera Jackson for Wardrobe with the support from Ashington Colliery brass band, St Nicholas Church, Alan Graham Costumes and Gosforth Musical Society and Fiona Burdon for makeup and finally to the front of house team who made the audience and myself feel most welcomed a big thank you.
The production started with the powerful overture from the orchestra, which was followed by an impressive entrance of the male chorus delivering the musical number “If You Want To Know Who We Are” beautifully delivered by the “Gentlemen of Sunderland”, excellent vocals and performances from Nick Antcliff, Keith Armitage, Paul Blakey, Dick Bradshaw, Colin Irvine, Alec Slaughter, and Howard Weathers. Not to be outshone by the Gentlemen of Sunderland, the Lady Graduates from the University delivered some impressive numbers, I especially enjoyed “Comes A Train Of Little Ladies” and the opening of Act 2 the hen party scene delivering the number “”Braid the Raven Hair” “ lead by Pitti Sing; well done to Susan Antcliff, Glynda Blackburn, Christine Blakey, Jen Bradshaw, Fiona Burdon, Janet Cunningham, Elizabeth Dunne, Vera Jackson,, Christine Montaser, Anne Phillips, Yvonne Richardson, Kim Storey and Marie- Claire Young. Super harmonies from both the male and female chorus and I absolutely loved the final Act 1 song “With Aspect Stern and Gloomy Stride” beautiful delivered a show stopping song.
The show had a strong line up of principals, which were superbly cast, Tony Harbble delivered an outstanding performance as Nanki Poo with his second trombone, he was every inch the lost soul in love, an immaculate performance great stage presence and what a voice, this young man certainly has talent; great vocals and I loved his rendition of “A Wandering Minstrel” a dream to watch and listen to. My Favourite character of the evening has to be Ko Ko confidently played by Phillip Hall, the Lord High Executioner of Titipu who couldn’t even kill a blue bottle. From his entrance adorning his Sunderland football top he was certainly in for a winning performance, and he didn’t disappoint, great comic timing and used his personality to create his characterisation throughout his performance. I loved his interpretation of the song “Some Day It May Happen” (Little List) with its Wearside references and to the delight of the audience; well delivered and he sailed through the beautiful number “On A Tree By A Willow” and I loved the birds silhouette just fantastic. Andrew Cunningham delivered a first-class performance as Poo Bah; (Lord High Everything Else) the delivery of his comedy lines was flawless, and he delivered his character with great aplomb, excellent stage presence and fantastic polished vocals in his musical numbers. A confident performance from Michael Beck as Pish Tush a noble Lord, confident stage presence and characterisation and I loved his contribution to the trio “Young Man Despair” with Pooh Bah and Nanki Poo. I especially enjoyed Richard Straw as the Mikado, crystal clear diction and great comic timing; some great scenes played out with Ko Ko and Katisha, vocally Richard has a strong powerful voice and delivered his numbers with ease I loved his numbers “A More Humane Mikado” and his number with Katisha and the chorus “Mi-ya-sa-ma” brilliant performance. Playing the role of Katisha was Anna Maria McCloskey who delivered a stand out performance; Anna Maria never came out of character and delivered a unforgettable femme fatal with a wicked smile; dressed sa Cruella de vil she assumed the dangerously predatorily Katisha rejected by Nanki Poo and looking for revenge, great vocals and her comic timing and stage presence was fantastic, great vocals especially in her number “Alone And Yet Alive”, absolutely loved the way Anna Maria delivered this character. The trio of sisters, Yum Yum, Pitti Sing and Peep Bo brought a delicious scoop of naïve innocence and winsome charm to the performance, Yum Yum was played by Daisy Bradshaw the irresistible target of Ko Ko’s emotions and love, lovely stage presence and good interaction with her fellow performers, vocally Daisy delivered her musical numbers well, enjoying her solo number “The Sun whose Rays Are All Ablaze” which was confidently delivered. Playing Pitti Sing was Bernadette Trottor, lovely scenes played out with Ko Ko and Poo Bah in the staged execution of Nanki- Poo, very entertaining and I loved her vocal contribution to the numbers “The Criminal Cried” and the classic trio “Three Little Maids From School” with Peep Bo, Yum Yum and the chorus of girls and finally Iris Ton playing Peep Bo who delivered a formidable contribution with real depth to her character, confident stage presence and lovely interaction with her sisters and lovely vocal contribution in her musical numbers.
Once again I congratulate the Directors for their vision, it’s a fine balance to keep both the traditionalists G and S audiences happy whilst at the same time making it fun and interesting for new and younger audiences to enjoy, for me this production was well balanced and on the evening I attended the mixed audience certainly left the Priestman Hall extremely content and happy and certainly had an enjoyable experience. Well done to everyone at St Andrews Operatic Society.