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Theatre costume

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1992 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Hendy, James (costume designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Furnishing fabric, satin, cotton, leather, plastic, PVC, gold braid, cord and metal

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Trust Ltd

  • Museum number:

    S.16:1 to 5-2008

  • Gallery location:

    Theatre & Performance, Room 105, case 10 []

Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Mikado was first presented by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in 1885. It was an instant success and has maintained its popularity ever since. It is the most frequently performed of all Gilbert and Sullivan's works, a staple of the D'Oyly Carte repertoire, a great favourite with amateur operatic societies and, since the lapse of copyright in 1961, has been presented by other professional companies. The songs are known by people who have never seen The Mikado on stage. It is one piece that can be guaranteed an audience.

It is also a piece that has proved resistant to radical reinterpretation. English National Opera's 1986 production, directed by Jonathan Miller, which set the opera in the 1920s, put the Three Little Maids from School into gymslips and made the Mikado himself a Pavarotti look-alike, is a notable exception. The D'Oyly Carte Company has always favoured a traditional presentation, with recognisably Japanese settings and costumes firmly in period, but every new director, designer and conductor offers a fresh view of the work.

Andrew Wickes directed a new production in 1992, with designs by James Hendy. The first appearance of Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, sung by Fenton Gray, became a visual joke that reinforced Gilbert and Sullivan's idea of the character. Ko-Ko's entrance is heralded by a chorus of lords and townsfolk, written in Grand Operatic style. However, the audience already knows that Ko-Ko is not a 'person of noble rank and title' but a 'cheap tailor' and convicted criminal (though only guilty of the comic opera crime of flirting), who has been appointed to high office on the grounds that he will never sentence anyone to death for a crime that he has committed himself. Hendy designed a costume to emphasise the dignity that Ko-Ko should possess and turned him into a terrifying Samurai warrior, towering two metres tall. However, the grandeur only lasted until the chorus ended. Then the front of the warrior's kimono opened and a puny bespectacled figure in a baggy cardigan and tights stepped out.

The costume is a shell, supported on a flexible metal frame. The arms are false and the singer's own are hidden inside the structure. He wears buskins (platform shoes) that accentuate his height, as does the helmet which is attached to a metal support behind his head. The whole costume forces the wearer to move at a slow and stately pace. The kimono is fastened at the bodice with press studs and the front of the stand is held closed by a pin. When the pin is removed the stand can be pushed open from inside, allowing Ko-Ko to be revealed.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (possibly, made)


1992 (made)


Hendy, James (costume designer)

Materials and Techniques

Furnishing fabric, satin, cotton, leather, plastic, PVC, gold braid, cord and metal


Height: 182 cm, Width: 109 cm, Depth: 63 cm

Object history note

The costume was designed by James Hendy for a new production of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Mikado by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which opened at Sadler's Wells in 1992. It was directed by Andrew Wilkes. Ko-Ko was sung by Fenton Gray.

Descriptive line

Costume designed by James Hendy for Ko-Ko in Gilbert and Sullivan's opera, The Mikado, D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 1992


Synthetic fabric; Satin; Cotton (textile); Leather; Plastic; Polyvinyl chloride; Gold braid; Cord (fiber product); Metal


Sewing; Glueing; Metal-working


Entertainment & Leisure; Stage costumes


Theatre and Performance Collection

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