A Bit of Nanki-Poo in The Vize
By Andy Fawthrop
Do you like opera? What about “light” opera? With rather a lot of comedy thrown in? Good – because you’re really going to love this!
Last night I was privileged to attend the full dress rehearsal for “The Mikado” by the splendid White Horse Opera company. I was expecting something perhaps still a little rough round the edges, maybe the odd fluffed line, the occasional note or cue to be missed, but there was really none of that. The company had been rehearsing for months, had chosen their principals carefully, and were absolutely up for it.
Yet again – another gem in the entertainment crown of Devizes – we are so lucky to have these people doing this stuff!
This particular bit of nonsense, a “comic opera” in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and words by W.S. Gilbert, their ninth of fourteen operatic collaboration, opened in March 1885, in London, where it ran at the Savoy Theatre for 672 performances, the second-longest run for any work of musical theatre, and one of the longest runs of any theatre piece up to that time. Since then it’s been translated into numerous languages, and is one of the most frequently played musical theatre pieces in history. The setting is Japan, an exotic locale far away from Britain, which allowed Gilbert to satirise British politics and institutions more freely by disguising them as Japanese. And the company has done an excellent job of the now-traditional exercise in updating the lyrics of some songs to reflect politics Britain in 2019. Particularly pointed was Ko-Ko’s (The Lord High Executioner’s) song about who he’d like to execute (“I’ve got a little list, and they’ll none of them be missed”).
It’s always difficult, and sometimes a little invidious, to pick out individual performances but I think it’s worth mentioning particularly Graham Billing, who delivered a hilariously nervous and dithering Ko-Ko, Charles Leeming as a wonderfully pompous and self-important Pooh-Bar (Lord High Everything Else), Lisa House as Yum-Yum, and the resilient Ian Diddams, playing The Mikado splendidly as a power-crazed modern dictator. But there were strong performances all round, from every member of the cast. It was so obvious that they were thoroughly enjoying what they do, delivering a top-notch production.
I’m not going to give the plot away, nor would I even attempt to summarise the complicated ins and outs leading to the hilarious denouement – suffice to say that the story is stuffed with disguises, mistaken identities, the fickleness of emotions, and the usual human drivers of fear and greed. The main characters ham it up splendidly, and deliver the songs with confidence and panache, squeezing every last drop of comedy out of the script.
Given that it’s performed in modern dress, sung in English, and is a laugh-a-minute, it’s completely accessible and enjoyable. So, even if you thought that you didn’t like “opera”, I can assure you that you are going to love this. Thoroughly entertaining stuff!
It’s going to be performed on Saturday 15th June at St Mary’s church at 7.30pm. Tickets are an absolute bargain at only a tenner, and are available via Ticketsource or the company’s website at
Future productions by WHO include:
• Wednesday 30th Oct to Saturday 2nd November @ Lavington School – Bizet’s “Carmen”
• Tuesday 17th December – venue TBA – Christmas Concert
• Friday 20th March 2020 – venue TBA – Spring Concert
And if you’re interested in getting involved yourself, whether singing, playing or behind the scenes, just head over to their website. You can also support them by becoming a “Friend” of the company for £20 p.a. Remember – they are an amateur company, supported by volunteer efforts and by voluntary contributions from their supporters.
Adverts & All That Malarkey!