Words by W. S. Gilbert and Music by Arthur Sullivan
Southampton Guildhall,
March 1997
Cast List
The Mikado

Notes on this performance

86. The Mikado 

Out of this world…

According to the advertising material, the North Guild seems to have now become Southampton Guildhall but it remained essentially the same venue that SOS had called ‘home’ since 1947. Robert Venn was pleased to travel long distances to continue his quest to raise SOS singing standards and Philip de Grouchy accepted the invitation to direct the show – a fascinating pairing! He was keen to move away from the traditional Japanese setting but was finding it difficult to come up with ideas that would work consistently – ‘Outer Space’ kept leaping into his mind and, although he tried to resist the concept, time was running out, so Titipu was relocated to Mars!

Undeterred by Robert’s concerns about the questionable quality of the men’s chorus, Philip pressed on with his plans to reinvigorate the opera. Choreographer, Anita James, set about teaching the ‘Gentlemen from Mars’ (who would wear boiler suits, dark glasses and have silver hair) a dance routine involving karate moves for the opening number whilst the ladies could not believe that women of the future would have their hemlines quite so high! Flyers proclaiming that, ‘The Supreme Time Lord, The Mikado forbids all non-connubial flirting on pain of instant decapitation’ were given out in the auditorium, light sabres were prominent and even a dalek (with junior member David Austin crammed inside) made an appearance. However, the Mikado still referred to Matthew Le Tissier and sang about a goalkeeper who allegedly let in goals for money (a very topical subject in Southampton at the time).

There was one strong letter of complaint about Philip’s updating but there were many more showing appreciation of the change and the Echo reviewer certainly seems to have been in favour. ‘This unconventional version of the Gilbert and Sullivan favourite lifted off to an appreciative audience. Set in a Japanese space station on Mars, the production is visually unusual with the traditional kimonos and fans giving way to more austere space suits. The music remained true to the original, however, and, under the direction of Robert Venn, was up to the society’s usual high standards.

A strong principal line-up was ably supported by a well-balanced orchestra and chorus. Leading the principals was the double act of David Rayner as Ko-Ko and David Jupp as Pooh-Bah, but all the principals combined well. Alison Vincent’s rendering of Yum-Yum’s solo was the musical high spot, with Richard Wilkin’s Nanki-Poo and Colin Sly’s magisterial Mikado also deserving credit. 

This spirited and lively production by Philip de Grouchy was a brave attempt to re-vitalise a familiar tale, losing nothing of the original comedy. The show will be of interest to both traditionalists and new-comers to the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.’ 

The ‘costume levy’ of £10 that was introduced in 1996 had now become a ‘production levy’, but neither the minutes nor the professionally drawn up accounts record whether this money was refunded or included in the final figures - just that The Mikado scraped a profit of £64.

Terry O'Farrell

Photo of Three Maids

Three Little Maids from School: Carol Johnson (Pitti-Sing), Alison Vincent (Yum-Yum) and Christina Fletcher (Peep-Bo)

Photo of Nanki and Yum

Alison Vincent (Yum-Yum), Richard Wilkin (Nanki-Poo) and the Chorus

Photo of Act 1 Finale

Heather Walford (Katisha) and Carol Johnson (Pitti-Sing) - Richard Wilkin (Nanki-Poo - red overalls) looks on

Photo of Mikado

Heather Walford (Katisha), Colin Sly (The Mikado), David Rayner (Ko-Ko), Carol Johnson (Pitti-Sing), David Jupp (Pooh-Bah)