Posts Tagged ‘Onoe Kikunosuke V’

Review – Twelfth Night -Shochiku Grand Kabuki at the Barbican

March 30, 2009

On Saturday night J and I went to the Barbican to see the Shochiku Grand Kabuki’s production of Twelfth Night. I hadn’t been to a Shakespearean play in such proximity to having viewed a different version before, but it meant I was very much on top of the story of Viola, Olivia, Orsino, and Maria. (My usual limit is about once per year per play, so no “two Hamlets in six months” no matter who the star is.)

The reason why I broke this guideline was because of my overwhelming interest in seeing a professional, top level Kabuki company without travelling to Japan. I went in 2001 to the Kabuki-za in Tokyo and fell in love with the performance style as well as the whole atmosphere of the Kabuki experience. I loved the fun snacks that you could sit and eat during the show (salted soybeans! Yum!) and the way the audience members would shout out the name of a favored actor at just the perfect moment, when it was completely silent, and yet somehow at a point where they were not interrupting the dramatic action. It was like being at a sports match, somehow, much more informal and fan-based than English language theater. Thus when I heard there would be an opportunity to see Real Live Kabuki in London I jumped on it – but not nearly soon enough as I was only able to get tickets in the third balcony, rather claustrophobically squeezed under the oppressive overhang of the Barbican Theatre’s upper level of sound proofing.

Still (as I stumbled across the legs of about twenty people on my way in), the sightlines from our center seats were quite good, and thankfully the show started a little bit late (as shows at the Barbican often will), so we were just settled in our seats as the first CLICK! of the orchestra marked the start of the production.

The curtain rose on a gorgeous, simple scene of three small children singing (atrociously, who thought this was a good idea?) between a harpsichord and a platform with a few Japanese musicians on it. Behind them a huge weeping cherry tree gently shed petals on the ground – so appropriate for Orsino (Nakamura Kinnosuke II)’s speech about Olivia (Nakamura Tokizo V) wasting her youth in mourning for her father and her brother!

Then came the moment I had been waiting for: the storm scene! Not only was I expecting this to be the most exciting stagecraft, it was when I first got an eyeful of Onoe Kikunosuke V, playing both Viola and Sebastian. A full-sized ship (well, a bit small, but still, it was quite large, at least the size of a canal barge) rolled onto stage, the cloth waves rushing ahead of it, like real waves will, our hero as Sebastian in the prow. Kikunosuke then called his sister, ran into the hold, and returned in about one minute completely outfitted as a woman! The switches were amazingly fast, and I kept thinking of Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap – how did he do it! When the storm broke and high waves (cloth, again) started breaking, it all just got wilder and wilder, with Viola looking piteously out of a window in the hold. Eventually the mast of the ship broke, and we got to see Sebastian pulled beneath the waves. It was even more fun than Le Corsaire and made me wonder how anyone could get so excited about Miss Saigon‘s silly helicopter when you could see this instead. I was in love!

After this we had rather a lot of scenes that all seemed quite familiar, most of them set on one side or another of a gorgeous Japanese country house, with wooden platforms out front (perfect for receiving messengers) and large rooms in back (as the set revolved). Mirrors painted with flowers at the rear of the homes served to mark the homes of Orsino (lotus) and Olivia (iris) quite nicely. Of course, there were lots of cultural differences – Olivia’s veil covered her entire upper body, and Maria (Ichikawa Kamerjiro II, perfectly hysterical) veiled herself at well; and when Olivia went outside, two maids preceeded her and set up the platform with a headrest for her to use. However, “cultural differences” did not change the ultimate flavor of any of it, and made the drunken party scene (with Feste, who along with Malvolio was played by Onoe Kikugoro VII, Maria, Belch and Aguecheek – Nakamura Kanjaku) even more fun, with sake drinking all around and some quite hysterical drunken Japanese-style dancing (which seemed both extremely formal and just utterly over the top). Watching Maria crawl across the stage on her belly while Malvolio chewed Belch and Aguecheek out was great – upstaging epitomized! – and made me completely fail to pay attention to the dialogue (not that Malvolio had much to say until this point anyway). It was a great lead-in to the “let’s avenge ourselves against him” plotting and left me pretty psyched about the second half of the show. And, somehow, they managed to get the obligatory graphical illustration of Elizebethan humor thanks to a well-placed sake jug. (I suppose this is just too juicy to pass on even in Japan, but still, one hopes.)

This, however, was not to be, as, after an hour and a half, my companion declared himself too worn out to continue unless I was really, really determined to stay. And … well … I did actually know how it ended … and I’d just seen it a month ago … and we had seen an hour and a half’s worth of it even though I thought it went pretty fast … so I agreed to leave. He wasn’t hating it but it was my treat to him and if he wanted to get home earlier, well, it was only fair to concede as it wouldn’t cost me too much, especially since I felt like I’d already got back the price of my ticket.

I only really had two complaints about the show. First, too much of the text wasn’t translated, leaving us with long spaces where the actors nattered on and we English-speakers stared blankly at the supertitles, wondering what all we were missing out on. Second, while Olivia conducted herself perfectly as a noblewoman (as near as I could tell), Nakamura Tokizo just sounded so very elderly it made it difficult for me to buy Olivia as a being of outstanding beauty wasting away her youth. These were mostly small complaints, though. What I did not have to complain about was the heavily Japanese audience, which meant we had genuine shout-outs to the actors happening during the show and the pleasure of a hall full of women in kimono and obi during the interval. Truly, on this evening, it felt like spring had come to London, both on stage and off.

(This review is for the final performance of this show, which took place on Saturday, September 28th, 2009. Other reviews: The Independent, The Guardian (not much of a review, really), The Telegraph, ThisIsLondon (with a great picture of Malvolio in his “yellow garters”), and Phillip Fisher’s review in The British Theatre Guide.)

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