Thursday, 11 August 2011

Savoynet Performing Group: Mikado

I must begin by apologizing for an error in yesterday's review. I described Cambridge's Iolanthe as "pretty much sold out", but tonight we saw what "pretty much sold out" really means. I think you might have been able to seat three more people, if you rend them limb from limb and distribute them among your Irish tenantry... And this show merited the numerous and enthusiastic audience response.

There are other performing companies who can boast more International Festival productions total, but apparently Savoynet is the first to complete the canon (Thespis not included) at the Festival. A highly commendable achievement, and amazing that it should be a Mikado that finishes the set (although perhaps less amazing with Savoynet than others, as it's easier to assemble a Grand Duke cast when you have the international pool of talent that Savoynet draws from). Of course, not all Savoynetters are on the stage; there are several of the distinctive S'net t-shirt visible here in the gallery and in the upper circle. This show might not command many of the traditional SCA's (the Sisters, Cousins, and Aunts), but instead we have Savoynet's Committed Adherents who will unfailingly support the show. (I've just spoken with one who came to the festival for one night only; that's dedication.)

As was proven two years ago at the University Challenge, Savoynet is NOT a coherent whole, a Borg-style hive mind, a collective consciousness. No, Savoynetters are all individuals, with individual characters and personalities. This we saw on the stage tonight; we don't have a chorus of indistinguishable blur, we have a collection of real characters. This extended even more so to the role of Peep-Bo; often she's a person in her first half-scene, then relegated to "just another chorister", but tonight Rachel Middle was active in the role all through the first act finale, driving the plot along even though she has no solo lines. At the opposite extreme, the Mikado (Philip Walsh) was an absolute ruler and acted it - he owned the stage and everyone knew it. At least... the audience knew it, the local nobles knew it... but Katisha (Angela Lowe) didn't. A magnificent characterization, but no less than we have come to expect from Angela; she is a suberb performer. In "The hour of gladness", the lights dimmed and everyone faced upstage, giving her the stage all to herself - a beautiful moment. If she'd boasted of her singing instead of her elbow, perhaps she'd have acquired a husband more easily! Ko-Ko (David Lovell) didn't particularly want her, but when he went to woo her, he did so with strong passion and fervour. More passion, even, than he showed toward his ward; Yum-Yum (Kathryn Noonan) certainly wasn't much impressed by him. She had plenty of people attending to her, anyhow; in the opening of the second act, she even had native-guitarists playing for her - slightly odd, as we hadn't seen any such guitar in Nanki's hands (nor any instrument at all for that matter - he had a case but nothing to play). But Nanki-Poo (Rich Miller) didn't need an instrument to be a musician; his voice is all he needs. (The oft-missed joke in his opening dialogue, that he's a member of the band whose job it is to pass the cap around - and NOT to play - ignores the fact that he would make an excellent lead singer.) On the other hand, Pooh-Bah (Kevin Murray) forswore vocal intensity in favour of stately bearing and uppitiness; his characterization was strong, but I missed some of his lines up in the gallery. But William Revels' Pish-Tush was amply audible at the top of the theatre, and the snarking of Pitti-Sing (Emma Rogers) needs nothing to carry it but her expressive gestures. Both were extremely good fun.

Fun, in fact, is the best description for the show. Everyone on the stage had fun; everyone in the audience had fun. That, right there, is the definition of an excellent show. Just a few general highlights before I wrap up... The Little List song was tremendous, with a number of topical references in it; it was taken at a tempo and diction that allowed us to hear every word. The gag at the end, with the MD and Ko-Ko going back and forth after the latter "dried" was hilarious; it's funny how much rehearsal it takes to make something sound convincingly like a rehearsal! But convincing this was, to the extent that a number of people (including the adjudicator) thought it was a genuine failure. A show can afford to spend some time on gags of this nature when everything else is kept tight; and tonight's pace did indeed allow that luxury. This was an excellent show; Savoynet Performing Group, you have done the list proud.

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