In celebration of their fiftieth anniversary, the McGill Savoy Society has decided to reproduce its 1964 premiere production, The Mikado. With a flare for flawlessness, they ambitiously undertook this iconic production, which they carefully chose to reflect the world we live in today. In Gilbert and Sullivan’s world of hierarchical monotony, the struggle to abide by the rules or follow our convictions evidences how feeble our collective mentality can be. In The Mikado, the McGill Savoy Society shows just how hard it can be to think for yourself when you’re surrounded by the norms that society constantly reinforces.
The Mikado, a comic opera, is set in Japan. The choice of locale was made in order to covertly satirize British politics by disguising them as Japanese, as well as to poke fun at the Victorian fascination with Orientalism. Nanki-Poo (John Cook/Gabriel Campagne), the main character, a free spirit and musician who is repeatedly reminded of his lower social status throughout the play. He is courting the young and beautiful Yum-Yum (Dallas Chorley/Allegra Johnston), who is set – to Nanki-Poo’s dismay – to marry a high official, Ko-Ko (Nathaniel Hanula-James/Scott Cope).
Yum-Yum and her vain friends are essentially ‘flakes’ who relish all the attention they get. But while The Mikado’s younger characters tend toward the vapid, the older folks like Ko-Ko, the high-placed politician Pish-Tush (Michael Loewen), and the serious power tripper Pooh-Bah (Jonah Spungin) highly enjoy all the bowing, formalities, and extended conversations about their own importance. This medley of vacuous characters could hardly be called a winning combination for a progressive society.
Throughout the production, The Mikado keeps asking these questions we often hear about our own society in a fresh way. The women Gilbert and Sullivan portray are the end prize for the male characters, the members of the lower classes are strung along, and the important people make all their decisions based on loathing and self-interest.
Perhaps what makes this production brilliant is the adroitness the Savoy Society shows in keeping heavy issues lighthearted, in a way Gilbert and Sullivan themselves would have been delighted to witness. “It’s an enjoyable political satire,” points out the director, Cameron MacLeod. “There are storylines of seeking acceptance and finding love that are very human.” The Mikado serves as a hilarious and on-point satire, and a perceptive audience can savour the critique on multiple levels. The Mikado’s message still rings true, even in this mystical world of top hats and silk robes. The Savoy Society exposes our inability to escape our failings, showing us the tragic ease with which we give credit to the young, beautiful, and wealthy, even when no credit is due; just as we suffer the poisonous consequences of the self interest of politicians.
The Mikado is on February 20 to 22 at 7:30 p.m., and February 22 at 2:00 p.m., at Moyse Hall (853 Sherbrooke W.). Tickets are $12 for students.