The Gilbert and Sullivan Newsletter Archive


No 3 -- January 1976     Edited by Michael Walters


I thoroughly enjoyed The Black Mikado, which at face value was a jolly romp, for the most part faithful to Gilbert's text, and converting Sullivan's music to a mixture of rock, blues and calypso. The cast was all black except for Pooh-Bah who was white, and dressed in a white tropical suit and solar toupee; while the rest of the cast were in what was basically African & Caribbean costume, some of which were made to look pseudo-Japanese ("surmounted by something Japanese, it matters not what"). I was a little uncertain as to whether the production was meant to be a satire on British imperialism, or whether these undertones were co-incidental. I will assume that it was intentional, as there seemed no other good reason to make Pooh-Bah white, and during Act 1, the dominant person in the town (which of course he is, as Gilbert wrote the part) - to be subjected, in Act 2, to the authority of an African Mikado, much more powerful and autocratic than himself (shades of General Amin). It was difficult to get used to the idea of negroes talking about being Japanese and one wished they had changed the text and location; but on reflection it is presumably no odder for undisguised Africans than for thinly-disguised Englishmen to talk about being Japanese. The settings were quaintly Japanese, of the chocolate-box type. A large guillotine occupied the centre of the stage, with the block dripping with old blood, and a laundry basket marked "HEADS" beside it. One wondered if this was a comment on the barbarism of African tribal customs or the barbarism of British colonialism. Aside from Pooh-Bah, the British resident in the colony, the characterisation of the other parts seemed rather pointless, Pish-Tush, romping around with a cricket bat, seemed to be intended as a caricature of Learie Constantine, but I couldn't quite see why. The cricket bat (used as a symbolic chopper in Pish-Tush's first song) was not particularly funny. Most of Katisha's music was written into blues style, and she herself was played as a sort of Ella Fitzgerald type. She was not unattractive - and to my white and untrained eyes seemed to be as eminently desirable as Yum-Yum. The Mikado, unsubtle but authoritative, produced the ultimate in Mikado-laughs, which reduced the rest of the cast to paroxysms of fear and the audience to paroxysms of laughter. I suppose the next thing wil1 be the National Youth Theatre doing a white Othello?


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