March 13, 2014, by Mike Munro
Two Mikados, one university
Of all the things you could list to justify the assessment of The University of Nottingham as ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university’*, you might expect a comic musical written almost 130 years ago to be somewhere near the bottom.
However, two independent productions of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado have provided a cue to reflect on the internationalisation that the University has enjoyed in recent years.
By sheer coincidence, two University of Nottingham theatre groups based separately in the UK and Malaysia have chosen to stage the popular Savoy opera within weeks of one another. However, although the choice of play may be the same, the approach taken to the production of the opera differs rather significantly.
The Malaysia production, directed by University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) lecturer Sergio Camacho, puts a new spin on the classic, reinterpreting the much loved play from a Japanese manga perspective. The cast and crew have also collaborated with the renowned Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre to stage and produce the show. The UK production, arranged by the Students’ Union Gilbert and Sullivan Society, by contrast takes a more classical approach.
However, great differences can not only be observed in the direction but celebrated in the target audiences.
Gilbert and Sullivan originally set the musical in Japan not only to capitalise on the British fascination with the Orient at the time but also to allow them to more freely satirise British politics and institutions by disguising them as Japanese. While it is common to update references in the play to suit the contemporary audience, the story has been adapted for a Malaysian audience for the first time by the staff and students at UNMC.
In particular, the words of the song ‘As some day it may happen’, which lists potential candidates for public execution, are often rewritten for any given performance.
Daniel Dyer, director of the UK based show and treasurer of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, suggests that cultural differences can result in dramatically different productions:
“Our Little List includes “The tourists buying postcards with a fifty sterling note, The funny haired comedian who thinks we shouldn’t vote, and the bloggers, and the joggers, and the Scottish Nationalists, I’ve got them on the list, I’ve got them on the list”, references that would probably be lost on a Malaysian audience.”
He added “We’ve been able to tailor it specifically for the people that are likely to be in our audience, the people of Long Eaton and the students. Those are the people we’re expecting to see and the bits that we’ve been able to rewrite we’ve written for them.”
By pure chance the two shows are also linked by a more personal connection with Camacho and one of the UK cast members having previously worked together on a Gilbert and Sullivan production at Newcastle University.
The Mikado runs from Tuesday 25 March—Friday 28 March at Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton. Tickets can be purchased via the Students’ Union website.
*The Times Good University Guide 2014