SASHA Regan is on a mission to show young people the magic of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Victorian comic operas. The director tells EDWIN GILSON how she’s changing the modern reputation of the theatrical duo.

SASHA Regan freely admits that she has fallen asleep in some Gilbert and Sullivan productions. “Some of them are really boring,” says the artistic director of London-based Union Theatre, founded in 1998. “They really do go on and on. You can’t take a young person to see them.”

Of course, she doesn’t pin the blame on the Victorian duo – W S Gilbert the wordsmith, who constructed topsy-turvy plots and fantastical worlds, and virtuoso musician Arthur Sullivan – but rather the perceivably unimaginative modern adaptors of their work.

Regan’s all-male cast have tackled The Pirates of Penzance and now The Mikado, a typically absurd story that revolves around a school trip to the island of Titipu, a place where flirting is punishable by death and where tailors can become Lord High Executioners but cannot cut off another’s head until they have cut off their own. In a way that is both veiled and overt, the production pokes fun at English bureaucracy – fittingly at a time of general election.

“The great thing about Gilbert and Sullivan is it’s the same now as it was then – we all enjoy having a laugh at the government and the establishment,” says Regan, although due to the sudden announcement of the election the production wasn’t written with a topical satirical angle.

“If people choose to relate it to that [the election] they can,” adds the director. While Union Theatre’s production is set in the 1950s and therefore adapts the story’s original context, Regan is sceptical of writers that install too much of a modern slant into classic shows.

“I just find it quite jarring when you’re in this fantastical kind of Enid Blyton world and sud - denly you’re talking about Theresa May. We let the audience think what they want.” The purpose of the all-male cast is, in Regan’s words, to “give it [the production] a specific kind of energy.” She adds: “It’s about innocence and playful - ness. Gilbert and Sullivan have got really weighed down over the years – they have became quite staid.

“Even a lot of the am-dram productions have stopped doing them. When you have a young, goodlooking cast, it just re-energises it. Therefore when we have young people coming to watch it they don’t know these plays were written over 100 years ago. It was a way of reinventing it.”

The director is, however, wary of the risks of making young men dress up as women: that the show could “turn into a hideous camp mess”. The creative team spend a lot of time reiterat - ing the 1950s context of the production to stop this from happening. “We let the script talk,” says Regan. “If you ask a company of boys to pretend to be women it all becomes a bit RuPaul,” she adds, referring to the popular drag artist whose television programme, RuPaul’s Drag Race, has become pop - ular with young audiences recently.

“We have to remind them to keep it traditional; for example, we placed books on their heads to give them an old-fashioned posture.” As the Union Theatre nears its 20th birthday, Regan recalls a time in 2013 when the threat of eviction loomed large. Eventually the group were forced to move to a bigger venue near London Bridge from its original base in Southwark.

She admits she feels “pressure” in her job but reviving interest in Gilbert and Sullivan is just one of the many rewarding aspects of the position. “It’s become my mission to get 20 somethings coming out of the theatre saying, ‘ Wow, that was good’.”

The Mikado, Theatre Royal Brighton, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.45pm (2.30pm matinee on Thursday and Saturday), from £16.90, 08448 717650