Ben Williams interviews director Ellie Gauge and musical director Andrew Mair for DULOG’s latest production, Gilbert and Sullivans’ The Mikado.
Could you give our readers a brief synopsis of the production?
Well, the plot is a piece of political satire set in Japan, with love triangles thrown in. The setting in Japan was used by Gilbert and Sullivan to satirise the ridiculousness of British politics. The production revolves around a law, where flirting is a crime punishable by beheading and if a married man is caught, his wife must be buried alive. They also used characters such as Poo Bah, whose title is the ‘Lord High Everything Else’, to poke fun at the British political system. Intertwined with this is a love story, with all of the ridiculous drama and fun that we love about opera.
How have you approached the Japanese setting in Castle Great Hall?
I think that the setting in the Great Hall plays very nicely with the British undertones of the production, but we are taking a Japanese approach to the production. The cast are in kimonos and we’ve gone for Japanese-style make up. Although rather than trying to achieve a carbon-copy of Japanese culture, we’re making a statement with simple black kimonos and white face paint.
What do you say to those who haven’t had any experience of opera before?
With Gilbert and Sullivan, the pieces are easier than an opera, it far more accessible than that. I wouldn’t describe it as either musical theatre or opera, it meets somewhere in the middle, so it makes a great starting point. It is very easy listening, catchy songs, great plot and really funny. A lot of people I know who are fans of Gilbert and Sullivan are not really opera fans at all, so I don’t think that it should be a problem for those with limited opera experience at all.
Why chose The Mikado over all of the other Gilbert and Sullivan operettas out there?
I think of all of the Gilbert and Sullivan works it’s the funniest, but it also has a brilliant story line and the music is the most well-known. For the individual actors as well, the characters are the most vibrant and there’s the most scope to do your own thing with it.
What were the major challenges you faced with the production?
Musical perspective, we had a very short time to put it together. DULOG productions move at a really fast pace, as soon as we finish this on Saturday, the company moves straight on to the next production. The challenge is to get straight down to business and get the music learnt, the scenes set and the dances learnt as well as sorting out all of the logistics.
How have you found directing other students?
This is my first experience directing something in Durham and I’ve absolutely loved it. It’s very true that it’s hard to control the troops, so to speak, especially when some members of the cast are older than you. But the cast have been brilliant and there’s been a lot of collaboration involved. They’ve been so professional, they’re all experienced performers, they’re not necessarily DULOG regulars, there are a lot of new faces, but they’re all immensely talented.
How did you find the casting process?
What we find with this first production of the year, is that the Gilbert and Sullivan productions attract a lot of different cast members to DULOG productions later in the term. It attracts a different kind of person. What you find with the DULOG regulars, those who’ve been in it since Freshers, you get lots of them going on to do Music and Drama at a postgraduate level without studying music as their undergraduate degree. That’s the calibre of people that we’re working with and DULOG offers great opportunities for them to gain useful experience.
Is there anything else that our readers should know about the production?
Don’t let Lumiere stop you. It’s not a problem. You can buy tickets from Dunelm House or online and Dunelm house is acting as our box office for the night. You can show your tickets there and you will be stewarded along Kingsgate Bridge which is only open to students or Mikado audience members. Also because the performances aren’t until 8:30, Palace Green should be less packed. Definitely don’t let it stop you coming.