Savoy Opera Reviews: The Mikado
||1885 March 21
||New Series 27|
||THE STAGE: "THE MIKADO"
"THE MIKADO," at the Savoy Theatre, is, let us say to begin with, a frank success. Among the works of Gilbert and Sullivan it will rank next after "Patience," and "Patience" is already classed among nearly immortal things. Indeed, almost the only objection we can make to the "Mikado" is, that it is not absolutely fresh, though it is absolutely tuneful and merry. Somehow the music reminds us pretty often of "Patience," while the sentiment of the libretto reminds us – well, not so much of "Patience" as of Mr. Gilbert. The personages of the drama, of course, are Japanese, and their action is thus happily freed from the fetters which restrain us in our western civilisation – from the "custom which binds us all." A Japanese damsel may, with utmost merriment, receive affectionate attention from a gentleman who is doomed to be beheaded in a month, but whose philosophy, meanwhile, is of the Epicurean order, while a second gentleman looks on furnished with the pleasing knowledge that the lady is destined for him when the first gentleman's month is over.Thus it is that they settle matters quite amicably in the Japan of Mr. Gilbert – as in Mr. Gilbert's England for the matter of that – a spirit of mockery is abroad. The love that those feel who are no longer beautiful and young is a subject of ridicule. The promptings of integrity are an ingenious pretence – everybody has his price – but it is natural that a Lord Chancellor's price should be a more substantial one than that of a police-court solicitor. The most important person, however, in Mr. Gilbert's Japanese realm, is the Lord High Executioner, who objects to the suicide of the miserable only as an undue interference with his vested interests – an undue curtailment of his prerogatives. This important state functionary is played by Mr. George Grossmith in his driest fashion, and he sings a song indicating how many are the leaders of politics and society who, if capital punishment befel them, "never would be missed." He capers here and there on the stage full of that cheerful assurance, and practically he amends the famous saying that il n'y a pas d'homme nécessaire by holding that there is but one homme nécessaire – the public executioner. Entertaining as Mr. Grossmith is, however, in the utterance of his naïve brutalities, he is, in the present piece, less absolutely àpropos – less certainly Japanese – than Mr. Rutland Barrington, who has been either to Yokohama or to Knightsbridge to excellent purpose. His eyebrows are painted in so completely at the proper angle that they deserve the traditional "sonnet" – if eyebrows in Japan ever win a sonnet. His highly intelligent and – dare we say it? – wicked little eyes are very telling, and so is his smooth face, and his placidity of demeanour. And he pads about the stage with the half-feminine aourtesy and softness which belong to the cultivated male in the Land of the Rising Sun. So Mr. Barrington acts his part well, and he sings charmingly. His part, we should say, is that of every public functionary except the Lord High Executioner; and as Secretary of State he advises that which as Chancellor of the exchequer he could not even listen to, and as Paymaster-General he cooks the accounts in a manner which as Archbishop of Titipu it becomes his duty to denounce. Mr. Durward Lely plays Nanki-poo, the son of the Mikado. He sings tastefully enough the first part of his long first song – the sentimental portion – but has not volume or energy enough for the change into the patriotic. The ladies are four in number, over and above the most quaintly attired chorus now in London. These are, first, Yum-yum, who is to marry Mr. Lely first and afterwards Mr. Grossmith; then her two friends, "two little maids, in attendance come"; and, lastly, Katisha, an elderly lady in love with Nanki-poo – a lady whose features are not exquisite, but who has a left shoulder-blade that is a miracle of loveliness. "People come miles to see it. My right elbow has a fascination which few can resist. It is on view Tuesdays and Fridays, on presentation of visiting card." Of these four characters, the two that are the most important are Katisha and Yum-yum. Miss Rosina Brandram plays the elderly Katisha, and in her serious passages – for much is serious in Katisha – uses a fine voice sympathetically. Miss Leonora Braham is Yum-yum. She and the other "little maids" besides are admirably vivacious. They are more Japanese than the Japanese. Their sudden, angular picturesqueness outvies that of the screen, and their ready cheerfulness that of the tea-house. Yes, as we said to begin with, "The Mikado" is a frank success. It is great nonsense, no doubt; but then it is the very funniest fooling to be seen. And so pretty, too!