Junior Vice President, Roger Starbuck, from the G&S WA Board writes a mini account of his recent visit to the 29th International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival held this year in Buxton, England.
When I discovered that my planned trip to the UK coincided with the 29th International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival I couldn’t wait to book for the only performance I was in the locality to attend.
So, on the afternoon of Sunday August 6th, I attended the performance of The Mikado, presented by the National Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company, and accompanied by the National Festival Orchestra in the delightful Buxton Opera House in the Derbyshire Dales.
The orchestra comprised 30 musicians and gave an excellent rendition of the overture and my excitement was building to see the opening “Japanese” scene for “if you want to know who we are ….”.
I should have looked at the Director’s Notes before curtain up as the scene revealed a modern day schoolroom with “boys” throwing things about – as they do in schoolrooms when teachers aren’t present.
Pooh Bah seemed to be the chief teacher with Pish Tush ranging from sports master to army cadet’s leader. Next came Koko as a dog collared RE teacher followed by hockey stick wielding girls. If this was a first-time attendance to The Mikado I am sure it would have been most confusing plot to decipher. I am guessing that Katisha was the school’s headmistress, and the Mikado was the headmaster.
Fortunately, being more than acquainted with the opera having seen and performed in several productions I was able to enjoy a well performed and beautifully sung performance.
I enjoyed the performance for the music and acting but my guest was very disappointed with the production her not being as well acquainted with the opera – the girls were in school uniform except the three little maids who were in bright 1950’s style dresses and all the principal characters were also in uniform or school gowns, and that for her took away the charm which is The Mikado. She had been looking forward at least to the Japanese costumes.
When eventually reading the Director’s Notes (Sarah Helsby Hughes) I realised why it had been so set. Quote: “Staging the Mikado 2023 poses particular challenges in relation to cultural appropriation and racism. We are, one hopes moving towards a kinder, more tolerant, and respectful society. Therefore , presenting The Mikado in the traditional manner can feel problematic for many people, myself included.” She admitted that she felt conflicted and didn’t want to bowdlerise G & S saying that she wanted to read what the author wrote whilst noting the circumstances in which a work of art was conceived.
She said that in light of her thoughts she decided to set the production in a 1950’s school acknowledging the fact that schools often mounted Gilbert and Sullivan productions of their own and this production is to pay tribute to that fact.
All in all a very polished performance with excellent voices, diction and accompanied by an excellent orchestra.
Read more on the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival: https://gsfestivals.org/