OVER THE years, at infrequent intervals, some exceptionally fine production declares itself a landmark in the world of local theatricals.
Such an one was Witham Musical and Operatic Society's presentation of “The Mikado” last week.
To those of us who remember the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company in its heyday, attendance at" amateur performances of their light operas usually leads only to a state of modiﬁed rapture. This time, however, the combination of a brilliant producer and actor, Derek Collins, and a most competent team of performers resulted in everyone concerned savouring the sweet smell of success.
The tripping little walk of the gaily clad chorus girls traced intricate patterns across the stage and their giggling and hissing together with the elaborate drill of spreading and snapping fans brought vividly to life W. S. Gilbert’s idea of the Japanese customs revealed to him all those years ago by a little geisha girl.
For some time to come, those fortunate enough to be in the audience - for seats were at a premium each evening - will talk about Derek Collins’s performance as Ko-Ko. Light-footed and almost acrobatic at times he displayed a wealth of traditional comic “business” and was quite captivating in the part, and I venture to think that he would not have been out of place on the stage of the Savoy Theatre itself.
Local girl Pat Harris deployed the limpid purity of her sweet singing voice to great effect as Yum-Yum, especially in her solo, “The Sun and I,” and coped delightfully with the Gilbertian humour of the part. She was well supported by the other two little maids from school, Pamela Barry (Pitti-Sing) played at short notice although there was nothing in her admirable performance to indicate this, and Kathleen Adams (Peep-Bo) made a welcome return to the list of principals.
A pleasantly fluent tenor voice and an easy relaxed attitude distinguished Dick Raiment’s Nanki-Poo, and Don Walford brought along his resonant bass voice to deal with the thankless part of Pish-Tush. Thankless, too, from the feminine angle is that forbidding elderly lady, Katisha but the part carries rich rewards for the character actress. Rita Page staked her claim with a most praiseworthy performance.
Edward Maltby’s confident baritone dealt faithfully with Pooh-Bah’s vocal commitments but I felt that the character had not been fully explored and this ponderous personage turned out to be rather light in weight. Bill Smith’s stentorian voice dominated the proceedings as soon as he appeared. If the sadism was a little played down and if we missed the spine-chilling harshness of his laugh he nevertheless made a most majestic Mikado.
After a long apprenticeship as performer and chorus master, Jack Wilsher, now in full command in the orchestra pit, ensured a satisfactory accompaniment throughout. The gentlemen of Japan were statuesque and in good voice and, although greatly out-numbered by the girls, more than held their own in vocal ability.
Mention must be made of the original and artistic design by Susan Seabrook which formed the cover of the programme. The only mention of-the society’s title, however, appeared as the odd word WMAOS. Japanese, no doubt!
MORE Gilbert and Sullivan - this time at Witham. Gilbert tilts at the fashionable craze for Japanese things, as well as hitting nearer home too, while Sullivan’s music makes every song a winner and welcome “as the flowers that bloom in the spring."
The performance by Witham Musical and Amateur Operatic Society was well to their usual standard and the individual stamp of its producer, Derek Collins, was identifiable right from the entry of the Gentlemen of Japan, while the variety of costumes made a highly colourful spectacle. The very few rough patches on Thursday evening were undoubtedly ironed out for the following performances.
In addition to producing the show Derek Collins was also the outstanding personality as Ko-Ko, Lord High Executioner of Titipu. He seized every available opportunity to display his talents and had the audience calling for encores of “Here’s a how-de-do” and “The flowers that bloom in the spring.” Edward Maltby made a good impression (apart from some lapses of memory) as Pooh-Bah, the haughty Lord High Everything Else. His dignity amidst the frivolity was unshakeable.
Of the three little maids Pat Harris, Yum-Yum, had the major part and played it convincingly. Her nervousness detracted from an otherwise charming rendering of ‘The sun, whose rays are all ablaze,” but her duet with Nanki-Poo (Dick Raiment) "Were you not to Ko-Ko plighted" was most touching.
Who else but Bill Smith could have been The Mikado of Japan and made such an impressive entrance? He had all the qualities necessary for the part, but the intonation of his daughter-in-law elect, Katisha, was suspect at times.
Apart from the dissension in the orchestral ranks at the opening of act two they played well, under the direction of Jack Wilsher, and accompanied solo voices sympathetically without drowning them,
A NEW chapter in the history of the Witham Amateur Operatic Society opened on Thursday when the curtain rose on their ﬁrst-ever autumn production; Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” which was distinguished by the high standard of its visual comedy. As one who has sat through more than half a dozen different performances of this fine work (and who hopes to sit through at least a dozen more) I don’t rate this very high up the list vocally.
But director Derek Collins, who achieves the near-impossible feat of a smooth production and a skilfully comic performance as Ko-Ko, succeeds in bringing out the funny side of this light opera to a remarkable degree, and especially in his own performance. With the best oriental make-up of the whole cast, Mr. Collins, from the moment of his ﬁrst entrance sidling on behind his executioner's axe to his final despairing efforts to get away from Katisha’s arms turned in a laughter-provoking performance of voice, facial expressions and bodily movements.
And I have never seen a “Mikado” where a producer made such effective use of the Japanese fans. At times they were speaking a language all of their own, and a highly articulated language at that!
If all the cast had sung out like Bill Smith in the title role, I could have been more enthusiastic about the vocal side of the production but Dick Raiment’s rather pinched tone did not do full justice to Nanki Poo's “A wandering minstrel I.”
The team of Little Maids, Pat Harris, Kathleen Adams and Pam Berry, could have been better integrated, but this is explained by the fact that the latter came into the show at the last minute following her appearance in “Patience” at Braintree last month.
Rita M. Page had the right speaking voice and looks as Katisha but didn't possess a weighty enough singing voice to back these qualities up, while Don Walford as Pish-Tush failed to project his singing out in the ﬁrst act. Edward Maltby looked the very embodiment of Pooh-Bah, but uncertainty of his words prevented him from fully exploiting all his performance’s potentialities. The chorus, on the other hand was the best drilled one I have seen at Witham.
After an undistinguished and scrappy performance of the overture, conductor Jack Wilsher settled down to keep the music in a satisfactory manner.
To sum up: A far from flawless, but a highly enjoyable “ Mikado;” '