Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



6.1 THAT Handshake
6.2 Make-up & Costumes
6.2.1 Occidental eyes
6.2.2 Kabuki makeup
6.2.3 Wigs are the key
6.2.4 Free of stifling collars and corsets?
6.2.5 A Mikado Memory
6.3 What Address?

6.1 THAT Handshake

Andrew Crowther wrote: I'm uncomfortably aware that I'm often guilty of being an "idiot who praises, in enthusiastic tone/All centuries but this...." I may also be one of those people who "when shaking hands shake hands with you like ", but it's difficult to tell, just from the description. Is there a Gilbert-approved gesture to show exactly what kind of handshake he so hated? Sam Clapp mused: This leads me to a rather interesting observation. Many Ko-Ko's that I have seen think that the "THAT" is a very hard handshake, and they recoil in pain. However, is there not a Bab drawing following the "little list" which depicts two gentlemen giving each other the "dead fish (i.e., limp)" handshake? Hmmmmm..... Paul McShane quipped: Yes, Andrew - the limp one. You can keep us all guessing as to whether this applies to you or not.

And Carole Berry put in her oar: Come now Andrew - I think we all know EXACTLY how he meant "shaking hands with you like that" meant!!!

6.2 Make-up & Costumes

6.2.1 Occidental eyes

Thomas Drucker wrote: In general, regardless of the extent to which the Japan of The Mikado resembles the England of Gilbert, productions tend to stick to some version of Japanese attire (with some flamboyant exceptions). One point that arises is the extent to which the non-Asian members of the cast (usually the majority, I should think, outside the Far East) should be made up to look as Japanese as their attire. Most productions that I have seen go in for just a token amount of make-up rather than undertaking it more seriously. Is this a case where the costume is sufficient to create all the atmosphere that one needs? Larry Byler pointed out : I have been involved in seven productions of The Mikado in the past 12 years. None tried to turn Occidental eyes into Asian eyes (nor did we apply liberal gobs of base to the exposed areas of our black cast members). Some productions used bald wigs for the men, others did not. I guess that's as far as we went, makeup wise.

6.2.2 Kabuki makeup

Janice Dallas observed: A kimono alone won't do, unless you also have the right movement techniques. Wigs, especially on the men, help a lot, as do folding hand fans used correctly. Make-up effectiveness depends a lot on how close you are to your audience. If you're practically in their laps, it is very important, perhaps to the extent of using eye "prosthetics". If you're on the other side of an orchestra pit, "fool their eyes" make-up works as well as prosthetics, and if you tend to end up in the far back regions of the stage because you're a tall chorister, you might as well just give it "a lick and a promise". I've been in 2 productions. Both used proper kimonos and wigs, but, in one, we had Kabuki style make-up designed for us by Jack Stein, using a white face as a base (but stopping at the chin!). The other was more usual, using Mikado yellow as the men's base, and an extremely light base for the women, and shaping the eyes and eyebrows somewhat exotically. Of the two, I think the "Kabuki" make-up (and Kabuki movements) made for a much more exotic-looking show, but it really wasn't very Gilbertian in feel. Ralph MacPhail replied to this: I wish to associate myself, etc. I feel strongly that the strongly stylized "Kabuki" makeup, using white base and grotesque features, detracts incredibly from Gilbert's libretto and humor. These are, after all, as has been noted by critics from 1885, English people dressed up as Japanese. What I've usually seen as "Kabuki" makeup when applied (no pun, etc.) to The Mikado is harsh and grotesque. And while I'm at it, I also strongly believe that Katisha should NOT be strongly made up as an ugly and grotesque harridan. I know that she is a descendant from the English "pantomime dame tradition," but she is one of the few Gilbertian characters (IMHO) who through her lyrics (especially) rounds out her character. And it is ! No, Kabuki and grotesquerie in makeup has no place in The Mikado.

At which Tom Groves asked: May I differ? In 1978 I was at the University of Illinois. The artist in residence was Shozo Sato, a grand master of Kabuki and master set designer and painter. He had already directed a highly successful Kabuki staging of Macbeth and was asked by the head of the opera department to try his hand at The Mikado. It was spectacular. He designed and painted the sets himself, we were required to take classes in Kabuki movement for two months, and we were dressed in authentic Kabuki costumes from Japan (which took about a half hour to get into). Of course Mr. Sato had never seen The Mikado, so I was summoned to Japan House to go through the score and tell him every traditional bit (I was playing Pooh-Bah). He was a brilliant director and comedian who used some things I told him and created hundreds of his own. Gilbert's words and intentions were not violated in the least. The entrance of the Mikado in full Kabuki gear surrounded by 40 flag-waving attendants lead to a standing ovation. The make-up worked fine- you limit the ability to use the eyebrows for expression, but we used physical Kabuki movement to bring new layers of meaning to the characters. All in all it was an amazing experience- brilliantly staged and sung, visually stunning, and as funny and engaging as any traditional setting. No one who participated either on stage or in the audience will ever forget it.

6.2.3 Wigs are the key

Paul Sinasohn observed: The response of my wife (Denise Gutierrez, the senior makeup designer for Lamplighters in San Francisco) was virtually the same as that of Janice Dallas', to wit: WIGS are the key. They will be seen. You can (as mentioned above) extend the eyeliner outward and upward from the outer edge of the eye, if you wish to give the impression. But wigs are the key. For men, hats in a characteristic Japanese manner are de riguer. She does not recommend using bald pates on a lot of people for 3 reasons: It's expensive, it's difficult, and it's boring/unreal.

Rica Mendes wrote: Blue Hill Troupe did an admirable Mikado several years back done in the Kabuki style, which I thought to be rather aesthetically pleasing to the eye. I have to say that the Admirable Cathlin Davis had a very good explanation as to why Europeans shouldn't try to look "Japanese" - the satire is not based on Japanese government/society, but rather European. There is little evidence to show that the actors BELIEVE that they are Japanese, but rather European actors playing dress up. Therefore, when we did the Mikado we wore Kimonos - most of the women's kimonos were made with Laura Ashley-type floral fabrics -, didn't wear any kind of Japanese make-up and the vaguest hint of Japanese hairstyles - I wore my 1/2 hair up in a bun with two token chopsticks and I curled the rest of my hair into little ringlets. Cathlin Davis observed: Oberlin was a difficult venue in which to produce Mikado. We had barely any budget (says the Treasurer), and a very politically sensitive student body (my soprano quit because of a single word). so I went into directing the Mikado with the idea that these are English people putting on a show which is set in a country whose culture they don't really understand. This saved us a lot of money on makeup and hair, as well as keeping us safe from the boycotters. If anyone complained, I could point to the style of the production and say, see, we're making fun of the English! Isn't it clear?

6.2.4 Free of stifling collars and corsets ?

Andrew Crowther wrote as part of another thread [Section 2.1.1]: In this opera we're freed from many of the incidentals of the Victorian age - exchanging stiff collars and tight corsets for free-flowing kimonos. (I've a theory that these freeing costumes and the general atmosphere of pantomime encouraged the original performers to ad-lib more than they did in the other operas). To which Lisa Berglund replied: It might be that the men felt freed by their costumes, but the women? Aren't the Japanese costumes even MORE confining than the Victorian ones, especially about the legs? And then the obi . . ! I recall that Jessie Bond arranged to have an extra-large bow on her obi, which she "waggled" at the audience whenever she could, so I don't disagree with your notion that the costumes promoted a sense of fun and pantomime. But I doubt that the performers would have found them more comfortable than their regular garments. Mary Finn replied to that: I've been in the chorus of The Mikado twice, and yes, the kimonos can be restrictive, and basically hard to handle. Physically, though, the toughest thing about The Mikado is the kneeling, which the chorus often has to do for long periods of time. In one production I was in, the director was adamant that we kneel (both knees at the same time) and GET UP in one fluid motion - no hands, of course. Not so easy, especially for a died-in-the-wool klutz! I ended up with bruised knees and aching thighs.

6.2.5 A Mikado Memory

Barclay Gordon threw this delight into the discussion: As opening night drew near, spirits soared. The chorus of school-girls loved their kimonos. They practiced their mincing little steps and fine- tuned their fan work. Everything seemed perfect...until dress rehearsal when, for the first time, heavy Japanese wigs were lowered onto the ladies' heads. These wigs were not at all like human hair. They were jet-black, tall, and made of something like dacron. The effect was sudden and shattering. Most of the women-and especially the pert little blondes- felt completely wiped out! Some could not even recognize themselves in the make-up mirrors and, worse, they knew their friends from the office would not recognize them either on opening night. It was a sad spectacle for everyone except Katisha who watched this procession of misery with barely disguised glee. The moment passed. Spirits slowly rebounded. The wigs looked well from out front. Opening night went well. Nobody recognized anybody else and it didn't seem to matter.

6.3 What Address?

Mike Nash asked: A humble request: I'm required to die (on stage) in a week's time, i.e. I'm playing Ko-Ko. What on earth can I say in response to the Mikado's question, "Gone abroad? His address?" What I definitely DON'T want to do is to say some local place reference, as I think it's the most unfunny "joke" in the show. It always makes me cringe when I hear a Ko-Ko say some obscure place-name that is only known to locals - in this case, the environs of north-east Manchester. It sticks out like a sore thumb that this is something we (i.e. the society) have inserted, and to my way of thinking destroys the suspension of disbelief - all too quickly the audience are reminded that what they are seeing are not Japanese characters dealing with a difficult situation but a bunch of local amateurs "doing their stuff". There is no way that anyone is going to believe that Gilbert actually wrote "Ashton-under-Lyne" at that point. I don't believe the same applies to updated Little Lists, BTW, since as far as the audience are concerned, the new lyrics could have been written by a professional in the New D'Oyly Carte. If I were playing to a Gilbert & Sullivan audience (e.g. at the Festival), I would use a G&S joke, such as "Basingstoke" or "Pfennig-Halbpfennig". But that won't cut much ice with most of the good folk of Oldham. The week of the show ties in with our General Election here in the UK, so maybe a political reference? Only one other condition - it has to be at least three syllables, to give time for Katisha to read the death certificate and then scream.

[This drew a large number of suggestions as follows:]

Chris Wain was political: Go for "Tatton" -it's both local AND nationally topical. And appropriate to Pooh-Bah H******n. [Archivist's note: The sitting MP for Tatton at the time of this Discussion was Neil Hamilton, one of a number of MPs accused of accepting payment for asking specific questions in the House of Commons. He lost his seat to an "Anti-Sleaze" candidate who was, tacitly at least, supported by both major opposition parties.]

Steve Sullivan was global: How about: I know it doesn't fit your criteria, but it would work with the Savoynet crowd.

Eugenia Horne more local; If we're going for the Savoynet crowd, I think "Pocatello" would work and be easier to say.

And Tom Shepard positively parochial: Just to pick up on Steve's suggestion: if you want to keep to three syllables, you will do well with SAVOYNET.

But Jeff DeMarco threatened pedantry: Howzabout "Savoynet at Bridgwater dot E.D.U.?"

And Mark Beckwith went for the red tape: It sounds like the old 'a geographical reference of local humor' is right out, so I would recommend:

But Paul Sinasohn took the Whole List approach: Well, there is always:-

"double-you double-you double-you dot Nanki dot Poo slash tilde yumyum slash" (if you are standing, use the snicker snee to add the slashes??)

or a well-known landmark that existed both then and now: Piccadilly Circus, Stratford-on-Avon, New York City, San Francisco, 221 B Baker Street

or a very obvious G&S joke: Parliament, Penzance.

And as Larry Byler mentions, Colma (local cemetery town) is a favorite.

As did Jeff DeMarco: Here's a few serious ones - for some reason I have been thinking about this all day! I think my top choice would be "Barataria!" Nice in joke for aficionados - Gilbertian in the extreme, and several syllables to boot. I can hear John Reed in my minds ear saying it rather gleefully. Other possibilities:

Castle Adamant
The Crystal Palace

Then Henry Odum whisked us out of this world: How about some place that's in the news, like Hale-Bopp?

With Sandy Rovner clocking up the light years in his wake: How about Babylon 5?

Ted Rice was more down to earth: Mike wants a good place name for Nanki to about Llanfairp.g.?

And Lisa Berglund had these few words: How about "Coventry"?

Whilst Steve Martin offered many: "Hong Kong -- til July 1st, that is!" (Or if you want a G&S reference, you forget "Basingstoke!") Or how about Washington D.C.? Surely some of Nanki-Poo's Asian business contacts could get him a room in the Lincoln Bedroom ;)

Philip Walsh decided on an appropriate monarchic approach: Or being a bit naughty - where else would the Heir Apparent go but "CAMILLA'S".

But Elizabeth Pugh preferred a Prime Ministerial one: How about 10 Downing Street? It may be getting a new tenant soon!

And Bruce Miller went Presidential before becoming sublimed: Well, if you need some time to fill as you suggest, he can say: The White House - [confidential tone] Lincoln bedroom, you know. He's got close friends there." or, if you've got a sharp audience: "Heaven's Gate - but I hear it's only stopover."

Bob and Jackie Richards were convinced that: It just has to be Weatherfield, especially in view of poor Derek's demise to the refrain of Tit Willow. (They added: For the benefit of the non-UK Netters, [AND, I might add, some UK netting-non-soapers!] Weatherfield is a fictional Manchester suburb in our top soap - Coronation Street. You will note that they recently 'killed off' a boring, gnome loving character called Derek Wilton who had a heart attack to the strains of Tit Willow on his car cassette.)

Then Peter Zavon rounded it all off by bringing us back to reality with a bump: Yet WSG DID instruct his touring companies to use a local reference at this point. So, use a non-local reference if you want, but realize that by doing so you are moving away, at that point, from Gilbert's stated intentions. It seems to me that the only alternative to a local reference is non-local one. So if politics is of interest, consider the name of someplace that is associated with a current hot political controversy. In the 70's in the US, Watergate might have been used, for example.

Page created 19 March 1999