Gilbert & Sullivan. G&S to the devoted. Once the stable of every am dram (amateur theatre) group the world over has somewhat fallen out of flavour in recent times. In a world were the big stage musicals are often adaptations of existing movies or big production retreads of Singing in the Rain or Cats, the Gilbert and Sullivan oeuvre can come across as old fashioned and stiff. There is no denying the wit, comedy and musical value in these shows, but trying to get younger Matilda era people interested in seeing an opera written in 1885, set in Japan which satirizes British politics, can be a big ask no matter how ‘classic’ the form.
Which brings us to The Three Mikados. Combining the comic skills of Colin Lane (Lano & Woodley), David Collins (one half of the Umbilical Brothers) and New York comedienne Amy G, Three Mikados is a compact, hilarious and accessible play within a play. Essentially it’s a show about putting on a show of the Mikado, except without a cast of thousands (all the roles are played by the three of them) and no orchestra (they have a piano player). The elaborate sets are non existent and the air of ‘this-could-fall-to-bits-at-any-moment’ is constant.
Lane takes the role of megalomaniacal writer, producer, star constantly refocusing everything onto his own spotlight. Amy G has been “flown in at great expense” to participate in a chaotic and unprofessional show, and Collins brings the exceptional physical humour he has used for years in the Umbilical Brothers, to great purpose as comic foil. I suspect many would have been surprised at his beautiful singing voice too.
So, far from traditional G&S production, they play around with the conventions considerably and provide an ‘on the run’ exposition of who everybody is and what is going on (which you certainly don’t get in a regular opera version), but with added gags, call backs, inter-performer tensions and that sense of impending train wreck and bundles it up with some of the best known songs from the opera. If You Want To Know Who We Are, Three Little Maids From School Are We, On a Tree By A River (Tit Willow), etc albeit with comedic licence taken along the way.
There is some deft and inspired sparring between Lane and Collins, both well versed in the act of the double act and they work magnificently well together. There is more than one extremely funny Ready Steady Cook reference (Lane used to host the TV cooking show). It took a Google search to jog my memory as to where I had seen Amy G before, but if you look up ‘Amy G plays Kazoo’, you will see a fantastic (if not safe for work) piece of stand-up. Her great comic skill and strong singing voice are a perfect fit for this outstanding show.
You don’t need to know the actual Mikado, but you do need to want to be entertained by a class act. Great stuff.
Review by Ian Bell