The Mikado – Festival Theatre

After the success of The Pirates of Penzance in 2013, Scottish Opera have again teamed up with D’Oyly Carte Opera Company to bring us another Gilbert & Sullivan Savoy Opera classic.

Although set in the mythical Japanese town of Titipu, this opera is as quintessentially English as it gets: poking fun at our cultural idiosyncrasies as well as the British establishment of the time.

The curtain goes up and the audience meets Ko-Ko the tailor and his travelling magic show – unfortunately his ‘Death Box’ trick goes horribly wrong and he appears to actually saw off the head of his gullible assistant. A chorus of severed singing heads then introduces us to Nanki-Poo who claims to be a travelling musician in search of his lost love Yum-Yum; the quality of his playing alerts us early on that he might not actually be a musician. When the singing heads appeared, I knew it was going to be a good show!

mik1Nanki-Poo discovers that his love Yum-Yum is engaged to be married to the tailor Ko-Ko, which he’s naturally upset about. Meanwhile, The Mikado decides there is too much “flirting” in the town and decrees that any man caught doing so will be executed by beheading. However, in a topsy-turvy device, Ko-Ko, who has been sentenced to death for this very crime, suddenly finds himself restored to favour and appointed Lord High Executioner. It looks like poor Nanki-Poo has missed his chance at love. Or has he?

Everything Japanese was the height of fashion when Gilbert & Sullivan wrote this comic opera. The material culture, such as prints, textiles and ceramics that appear on stage would have been familiar to audiences and no doubt helped make the production such a success. Scottish Opera’s stage sets are some of the best I’ve ever seen. They match the narrative so well and transport us into the story. The set for the Mikado is colourful, vibrant and witty, with nods not only to Japanese culture but also to European fashion of the day, such as ruffled bloomers and bonnets.

mik2The libretto is as you would imagine, ridiculous and sublimely funny, with made up words and contemporary rants that are bang up to date with the day’s news stories. Ko-Ko ‘s first song got in a mention of the unfortunate story of the Japanese family who left their son in a bear-infested forest and a few jokes were made at the expense of the Scottish Government. This set a relaxed and informal tone straight away. The music was jaunty and quick, rolling along with the comedy of the story beautifully. I’ve never seen a comic opera before, not one written as a comedy anyway – Scottish Opera’s productions are often humorous and witty – but the Mikado is like a cross between cabaret and pantomime with all the best bits about these genres rolled into an opera: fantastic music, great singing and acting and real audience participation.

The Mikado is a genuinely funny, topsy turvy opera that takes you to a different place for two and a half hours. If you’re lucky enough to see a production at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, one of the best chip shops in the city is right next door. We always make sure we don’t get above ourselves when we’ve seen an opera by finishing the evening off with a bag of chips. Chips are a great leveller. I highly recommend both.


Director Martin Lloyd-Evans

Choreographer – Steve Elias

Designer – Dick Bird

Lighting designer  – Mark Jonathan

Conductors – Derek Clark (SO ) and David Steadman (long time D’Oyly Carte collaborator)

The Mikado (Stephen Richardson)

Nanki-Poo, his son (Nicholas Sharratt)

Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner (Richard Suart)

The Mikado is currently on tour. For more information on this, and other productions, visit:


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