Gilbert and Sullivan Archive


Stagecraft (concluded)

6.8 Choral bleating
6.9 Katisha's scream?
6.10 The heir's airs
6.11 Encores
6.12 Katisha's entrance
6.13 Business old and new
6.14 Ko-Ko's toe
6.15 Traditional business

6.8 Choral bleating

Nick Sales made this plea: A subject that has long puzzled me. Suggestions sought. Two of the local amateur productions of Mikado that I have seen have had the following bit of action/dialogue; it's related to the men's chorus's perceived lack of respect for Ko-Ko in his new station;

= (end of "Lord High Executioner")

KO-KO: Gentlemen, I am much touched by this reception

MEN: MHEEHEH! (short, sharp "bleating" noise delivered in K-K's direction)

KO-KO: I can only trust (etc. etc.) my study to deserve.


KO-KO: If I should ever be called upon (etc. etc.) gain to society at large. MHEHE!MHEHE! MHEHE! (delivered towards the chorus).

Now this has always much amused me, simple soul that I am. What I am of course wondering is:

1. Does this strike a chord with anyone else?
2. Is it English?
3. Is it middle-English?
4. Does it have any roots in original productions?
5. Am I only dreaming? Is this burning an eternal flame?

Explanations, anyone?

Michael Walters offered this: I have seen it in a number of amateur productions, but I never found it amusing, just rather silly. It is "supposed" to be traditional - I've a feeling it may be mentioned in Martyn Green's Treasury, but its so long since I looked at that book, I can't be sure (Would someone like to confirm or deny this?). Certainly it was never done in D'Oyly Carte in my memory(1960 onwards). Perhaps David Duffey can remember it? Peter Meason confirmed: Yes, Michael, it is in the "Treasury". Although my copy got lost somewhere along a chain of house moves I remember reading about it there. I don't find the business amusing at all and can't for the life of me understand what it is supposed to contribute to the scene. David Duffey replied: Used by Green and Pratt, reduced somewhat by Reed. I never found it all that funny. Nick Sales acknowledged: Thanks, Michael and particularly David. But does anyone have any idea ?

Geoff Dixon offered the following: As with many questions regarding G.& S. production points you have to consider the accompanying business. In this case the business at each "bleat" (both from the chorus and from Ko-Ko) was the "kow-tow" or "abject grovel in a characteristic Japanese attitude" (knees bend, fan held in both hands slides down thighs to knees, straighten up - all in one fluid movement). I had always assumed that the accompanying "bleat" was intended to convey some kind of formal muttered obeisance. It was certainly, as David Duffey says, performed by Green, Pratt and Reed - as well as, during the war years, Graham Clifford). Green used to screw as much humour as he could out of the situation by pretending that these unexpected interruptions were taking him by surprise and interfering with the flow of his observations (slight double takes, etc.) And Philip Walsh came up with: I have a D'Oyly Carte prompt book. Nothing original about this, just one of many copies which were sent from Savoy Hill to amateur societies on request for a small charge. At the end of "Reception" and "at large", there is a # sign referring to a note on the opposite page as follows:

All "Eh" hands on knees. Ko-Ko replies each time with "Eh"

I was going to introduce this into my own production of The Mikado but when the men tried it, they thought I was stupid for suggesting it. So we waved that point. I have a feeling John Reed used it in the 1966 Film, but could be mistaken. Ralph McPhail observed on this: In the promptbook in Gilbert's papers at the British Library, these interpolations are written "Eh?" My theory is that this "bleating" biz is a decades-old attempt to make "Eh?" intelligible to everyone seated in a theatre. The bit was originally supposed to underscore Ko-Ko's status as a parvenu, with the haughty gentlemen of Japan reacting to this upstart.

6.9 Katisha's scream?

Philip Sternenberg asked: Has anyone really paid attention to the exact way this dialogue appears in print?:

MIKADO: Gone abroad! His address.
KO-KO: Knightsbridge!
KATISHA [who is reading certificate of death]: Ha!
MIKADO: What's the matter?

Of course, we've long accepted substitutes for "Knightsbridge." But what in the world is "Ha!" supposed to mean? Obviously (?), it's a scream, or at least that's how it's always (?) delivered. When I first saw it, though, I was 13 years old and knew little else about G&S. I honestly thought Katisha was supposed to speak a single short syllable, perhaps as a contemptuous laugh. Was it standard practice for Gilbert and his contemporaries to write out screams that way?

6.10 The heir's airs

Louis Wernick asked: Does anyone have any information as to whether or not Nanki-Poo is expected to assume any of the airs or wardrobe of the heir apparent upon having to say the line: "The heir apparent is not slain".

Courtice Pounds as Nanki-Poo

a) The Schirmer score leaves this matter "blank" and many productions simply have Nanki-Poo finish the opera in the same wardrobe and airs he was directed to use as a second trombone. Does this suggest that this matter is either the wish of the librettist and composer or simply a long-standing tradition.

b) The thread that Nanki may represent a satire on the man who shirks his duty could be extended to the point that Nanki-Poo does not REALLY care to assume the wardrobe and the airs of the heir apparent, even when they may be appropriate.

c) Are therE older scores and/or older traditions suggesting that Gilbert and/or Sullivan actually had directions on this matter?

Marc Shepherd replied: I know of no textual evidence that Nanki-Poo is supposed to enter in regal costume for the final scene, and I do not recall ever seeing a production in which this was done. As a matter of pure practicality, it is expensive to give a character a brand new costume that is only worn for a few moments. There are a number of places in the canon where this happens, but usually some plot necessity compels it. As there is no plot necessity here for Nanki-Poo to enter in a new costume, why do it?

And Janice Dallas had this to offer: In all the Mikado's that I have seen or been part of, Nanki and Yum change into Wedding clothes for Act II. These are often in white, being the European version of white for weddings. In reality, the Japanese would use red for weddings, and white for funerals. I suppose Nanki's impending death could justify the use of white, come to think of it. Sometimes directors will have the happy couple reappear with sunglasses, cameras, etc. -- our modern version of the Japanese tourist. When I costumed it, I put Nanki into the Japanese male wedding attire of black and white striped hakama pants over a black kimono(well, we used a hippari shirt instead), with a crested Haori jacket over all. This works well for his appearance later, as it would make it immediately obvious to his father that he had married (and a pretty young thing she was, too). Yum-Yum was also in ceremonial dress. She wore a red kimono with a white outer robe that had a wadded edge "train", and had a traditional flower head-dress. Later in the act she changes into red over red (as do many Japanese brides).

6.11 Encores

David Duffey wrote: I get the feeling that there are mixed opinions on Savoynet about encores. I recall a Saturday during the DCOC 1959 London season when, with Sir Winston Churchill in the audience - or was it Princess Margaret? - Wandering minstrel, Little list, Three little maids, The sun whose rays, madrigal, Here's a how (8), Mikado's song, Flowers that bloom (5) and Tit willow were all encored, and the clamour after 'There is beauty' was such that PP and AD-G danced hand-in-hand across the stage during the applause. Intellectually one feels that is not good. But being part of an audience under such circumstances generates adrenaline, and a kind of 'mob-rule' asserts itself. Performers and audience get carried along together and then the encores seem natural and part of the proper order of things. Perhaps as well one's critical faculties are a little impaired. One can say that encores destroy the natural flow of the piece, but when one is part of an enthusiastic audience, things are different.

6.12 Katisha's entrance

Rowan Donoghue made this request: As I am about to direct a school production of The Mikado, I am interested in off-beat ways to present various aspects of the show. I have seen one of the video productions in which Katisha arrives in a hot-air balloon! Have others experienced interesting entrances for her? I intend to start the show with a village fair theme during the Overture, with jugglers, samurai swordsman and acrobats. These performers are the ones who can't sing in tune but are keen to take part somehow. Any other ideas to make the show attractive to young performers and audience would be appreciated. Bill Kelly offered this: The last two Mikados I've seen had the following entrances for Katisha:

1. In a 1996 production at Yale, not in Japanese dress, K. entered with an enormous hat and veil, rather like a giant beekeeper's hat. The brim was three or four feet around, with the veil hanging down all around to the length of K's knees.

2. In a 1996 children's production in Branford, CT, K. entered in a "dragoncopter" meant to suggest the helicopter scene in Miss Saigon. Whirring helicopter noises were played over the loudspeakers while K. entered from stage left, keeping the dragon prop in front of her and walking it along as she went to center stage. The body of the prop was a cut-out of a dragon attached to a skeleton made of PVC plumbing pipe. Attached via a vertical post (more PVC plumbing pipe) was a set of enormous rotor blades made of wire and crepe paper. The blades actually rotated at a noticeable speed, driven by a small electric motor powered by a 9-volt dry cell.

And Biff Florescu offered this: When I directed Mikado in 95, I added a touch that I got a lot of good feedback on. for the Madrigal, I had Peep-Bo, instead of leaving, come back on with music folders, which she passed out to the quartet. she then conducted in a very overwrought fashion. the audience got quite a kick out of it. I have also done the tea ceremony version, but I wanted to try something a bit different.

6.13 Business old and new

Andrew Crowther wrote; On Monday I saw a production of The Mikado by the Bingley G&S Society, which I enjoyed tremendously - the most, I think, of any production of it I've seen, including some professional. The production contained a lot of the "traditional" business that I've read about: "Not you, silly", the splitting fans in "Here's a how-de-do", the rolling over when Ko-Ko, Pitti-Sing and Pooh-Bah kneel before the Mikado, even a reminiscence of "Ko-Ko's Toe". From an academic point of view I disapprove of some of these, e.g. the rolling over (and the 2nd verse of Miya Sama, with Japanese brand names substituted, which they also did) - but in the midst of performance it seemed churlish not to enjoy it. The highlight of the production was undoubtedly Mitchell Wolfe, an agile young Ko-Ko, who brought a wonderful panache to the part. A couple of things they did which I haven't seen or heard about before:

"Here's a how-de-do": they did two encores, with traditional business - then the band struck up for a third encore, and an exhausted Ko-Ko staggered forward and shushed Pitti-Sing and the conductor. Two is enough, thank you, was the implication, and it was very funny in performance, though it isn't in my retelling of it.

Ko-Ko's line in the scene with Katisha: "I dare not hope for your love - but I will not live without it!" - he gave a deep unexpected significance to the second half of this, revealing his real purpose. Indeed, he wouldn't live without it! Very funny, and of course absolutely in line with the character. I'm constantly astonished at the wealth of talent exhibited in these amateur productions. Kevin Hardaker, as Nanki-Poo, was very good, and even gave a little colour to that pasteboard character. Mitchell Wolfe's sense of timing as Ko-Ko was absolutely spot-on - a really witty performance.

6.14 Ko-Ko's toe

In a review of the Bingley production of The Mikado [Section 6.13 above] Andrew Crowther mentioned Ko-Ko's toe which prompted Harriet Meyer to ask: What is Ko-Ko's toe? And Andrew explained it thus: Basically, it's a bit of business for "The flowers that bloom", in which Ko-Ko finds to his surprise that his big toe is standing upright from his foot. He pushes it down with his fan. It springs up again. And so on. Henry Lytton claimed to have originated this, but it's now known that George Thorne (the original Ko-Ko in America) was the inventor. an article by Brian Jones in the W.S. Gilbert Society Journal Vol 1 No 6 (1990), "Ko-Ko's Toe", goes into all this. Mitchell Wolfe, the Ko-Ko in the Bingley production, couldn't do this strange bit of contortion, but did pretend to hurt his foot, pulling up all his toes and limping, at about this spot. David Duffey provided this additional information: Peter Pratt had the affliction in the great toe of each foot. I think Martyn Green included it in The Mikado film, and there are certainly photographs of Lytton and Green both with the great toe of their right foot at right angles.

Nick Sales asked: Was it Lytton who said he dislocated the toe by accident during a performance, and thus the gag was born? I had always taken this to be the truth (simple, trusting soul that I am). Who's lying? Lytton? Was it Jones to whom this happened? Did the gag arise from different circumstances altogether? Michael Walters replied: It was almost certainly Lytton who was lying. He also lied through his teeth about being the first to introduce the "tragic" ending to Yeomen (i.e.. Point dying as opposed to fainting). This ending was also first introduced by Thorne.

6.15 Traditional business

Andrew Crowther wrote: The Bingley production contained a lot of the "traditional" business that I've read about. [Section 6.13 above] And Rowan Donoghue asked: Could anyone give me a reference to such details? To which Andrew Crowther replied: Ian Bradley's "The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan" (Oxford, 1996) contains most of the details I know about.

Page created 19 March 1999