A video of a 1982 performance at Canada's Stratford Festival (live, though with some singing dubbed), this is very much a theatrical experience, with the buoyancy of a show played before an audience. The cast and spectators take obvious pleasure in each other, and in classic Gilbert and Sullivan tradition, several numbers are encored. Subtlety is not this production's strong point, but you don't look to G&S for subtlety. As Ko-Ko, Eric Donkin doesn't exactly create a character. His performance is that of a vaudeville clown--he even wears a Japanese version of baggy pants. But his straight-to-the-audience delivery is irresistible. Gidon Saks plays the title role in Japanese-theater style, drawing out his syllables, rising to a scream at the end of a sentence. Though these mannerisms are a bit much, his demented tyrant of a Mikado is gripping and even spooky.
The production is not lavish, with a single, unadorned set and fairly basic staging. But there are some brilliant effects such as the entrance of the Mikado, enclosed in a litter, which his carriers open to reveal him standing magnificently in a miniature interior. Many of the comic lines have been updated, and with impressive wit. It's too bad that their topicality results in a lot of 1980s Canadian references, which will leave 21st-century non-Canadians feeling left out. Still, this is a highly satisfying interpretation of a classic. --David Olivenbaum