A compelling piece with good story and fantastic humour

Last week I had the privilege of being invited to see the first full rehearsal of “The Mikado”, the most recent production of the Southampton University Light Opera Society (LOpSoc). Directed by George Smith and Billy Boulton, this play was something different to other ones I have seen and reviewed over the past year or so. This was also my first time seeing a full rehearsal rather than the final product and being able to see the amount of direction and effort put in by the directors, the producers (Renata Stella, Isaac Treuherz, Venetia Matthews and Lucy Rose), the costume designers (Amber Courage and Eris Perring) and the musical director (David Child) gave me a better appreciation for what it takes to bring together a piece such as “The Mikado”.

As this is a preview I don’t want to give away too many details about the story to avoid spoiling it for those who plan to go a see the show when it takes to the stage next week. Instead, I would rather focus on a more general overview of the production to help aid those of you who are undecided make a choice about whether or not “The Mikado” is worth seeing.

Starting with the positives. The band offer a truly exceptional accompaniment to the action on stage and the overall musical score is wonderful, conveying the emotion of the song/scene with a quality performance. Praise must go to not just the band, but also David Child who leads the band expertly as musical director.

The choreography is spot on in most places and there is one song in particular, ‘3 Little Maids’, where the choreography of the three performers was so on point I made a conscious effort to congratulate lead choreographer Renata Stella for her work during the interval.

The singing is wonderful throughout and especially Barnaby Wilson (playing Nanky Poo) and Jenny Samuel (Katisha), both of whom are sensational. This is even more impressive to me when I was informed that Barnaby was suffering from a sore throat during this rehearsal, making me only wonder what he is capable of when singing at full capacity.

Both Katisha and The Mikado (Joe Hand) are established so quickly and effectively upon their first introduction to the piece. Within a few seconds I knew exactly how I was supposed to feel and react to these two characters and that made it so much easier to follow the story whenever they were involved.

There are 4 people that really stood out for me as a result of their excellent performances in “The Mikado”. Firstly, Ben Walker as Koko was entertaining, funny and compelling throughout. Sometimes I found it hard to know how to react to this character, but by the end of the production his character is arguably the best one of the entire cast. Also, and this is just a personal thing really, he did a whole song surrounding a list that really had me laughing and only fans of WWE will truly understand why I found this utterly hilarious. Amy Wardle encapsulated the innocence and femininity of Yum-Yum to perfection and delivered a fantastic portrayal of this young, sweet girl that her character required, all be it with a hilarious bit of sass at the start of Act 2. Joe Hand as the Mikado was beautifully evil, owning the stage with an aura of dominance demanded by his role. He was intimidating yet managed to also convey an air of humour when required, making the Mikado one of the most standout characters of the production, despite having the least amount of stage time.

Finally, the one man I’ve been wanting to write about from the second I left the theatre. Phil Needle may just be my new favourite human being as his portrayal of Pooh Bah hand me in stitches the entire time. A complete master of facial expressions and comedic timing, Phil could somehow manage to deliver the funniest lines of the entire show whilst still maintaining a look that conveyed utter hatred for the other characters. It’s honestly so hard for me to truly convey the brilliance of Phil in this show and honestly, is performance alone is worth the ticket price. One-liners, prop work, choreography, Phil used everything in his arsenal to produce the most hilarious stage character I have had the joy to watch in a long time.

Now the part some critics love and others hate, the criticisms. There aren’t too many I have with “The Mikado”, but the two that I do have still rattled round my brain for a few days after seeing this rehearsal. Firstly, the character of James (Isaac Treuherz) is incredibly annoying and quite simply distracting in the majority of the scenes he is in. This is nothing against Isaac, he plays the character extremely well and does the job that his role requests. However, I could not help but find myself taken completely out of certain scenes because of the random and frankly needless antics Isaac’s character was doing in the background. Distracting and annoying, James was a rather irritating part of the show, despite Isaac’s performance being top-notch.

Secondly, there are certain aspects of the story that left me perplexed and bewildered as they seemingly just stopped without any consequence. I don’t want to give too much away, but at the end of the show I found myself waiting for another scene because there appeared to be so many unresolved issues. There are also some major continuity errors that I won’t address now to avoid spoilers, but when I review the final production next week I will go into greater detail about.

Overall, “The Mikado” was an enjoyable show that contained good musical numbers and fantastic humour. Whilst there are one or two flaws with it, I cannot deny that I had an absolutely great time watching it and this was just the rehearsal. So be sure to pick up a ticket for the show which will be on stage at the Nuffield Theatre at 7:30pm every night from Wednesday 15th February to Saturday 18th February, as well as a 2pm matinee on the Saturday 18th February.