Posts Tagged ‘Shochiku Grand Kabuki’

Webcowgirl’s Best of London Theater 2010

January 1, 2011

Wow, what a year it has been. After resolving to see less shows in 2010, I wound up seeing more – 143 total versus last year’s 116. What was I thinking? Actually, this year I really upped the number of dance performances I saw (helped, as ever, by Sadler’s Wells’ fine programming), and though, at the end 2009’s 116 shows I was feeling grumpy and ill-treated, 2010’s cornucopia left me feeling exhilarated about all the fun to be had in London, even when you’re on a budget. The dance helped; it also means that my numbers of “shows seen” misses many of the shows my my more prolific show-seeing friends have attended. On the other had, I have more people to see shows with now, and I thought it was a year well wasted, so that’s what counts, right? Anyway, my list is based on what I saw, and not what I should have seen or what all is out there. Of all of the shows I went to, I paid for all but three of them, so there are limits to what I could manage. (Note: I’m waiting for my free tickets to The Children’s Hour as there is no way I can afford decent seat to this show.)

Best play performed entirely in a foreign language: this was almost Shun-Kin, a truly spectacular work of theater in the pared-down (Empty Space) vein I enjoy so much. But in fact, I walked out of the door of Sadler’s Wells babbling and giddy after seeing Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees. I mean, come on, fox spirits and slow-motion sword fights! I was so glad that whoever ponied up the money to bring this production here from Japan (the Japan Foundation?) did so; I felt extremely lucky to get to see it. Kabuki rocks!

Most magical theatrical production of the year: When I go to a show, I pray a little prayer (just like Man in Chair) that it will take me away – make me forget I’m in a theater, let me overlook plot holes or cheap sets, just make the magic happen. This is what I hope for and it really only rarely happens. Sasha Regan of the Union Theatre must take baths in the stuff, though, because her threadbare rendition of dusty old Gilbert and Sullivan staple Iolanthe won me over all of five minutes into the show. And this, mind you, was with me sat behind an iron pillar. Take that, National Theater and your wastefully overproduced Men Shall Weep. Less really is so very much more.

Best play of the year: nominees are 11 and 12, London Assurance, All My Sons, One on One Festival, Shunkin. While London Assurance had the advantage of both a top-notch cast and a hysterical script (and was so good I saw it twice, the only show I did this for all year), and would deserve the best “play” of the year, the winner for this is the Battersea Art’s Center’s One on One festival, which was a game-changer for me, a theatrical experience I’ve been talking about ever since. Thank you to all of the people who worked so hard to make this event come together; next year I will try to come as many times as possible – if it happens again.

Most “so close and yet so far” play of the year: an hour into Earthquakes in London, I thought I was seeing the most original theater likely to hit the London stage in 2010. Two hours in, my ass had gone numb, and yet we were barely past the halfway mark. At some point between these two moments I realized I’d just been locked in a room to listen to a three hour long art school lecture on climate change, complete with dancing nannies, bad science fiction, and a fanatical devotion to the pope. Well, the last one wasn’t there, but you know what I mean, and God knows the show had no concept of a sense of humor about its topic. Mike Bartlett proved himself still a most competent playwright later in the year with Contractions, but this show had a lot to answer for, not the least of which was leaving a third of the audience on their feet for way, way too long. Of course, this wouldn’t have mattered nearly enough if it hadn’t also been preachy and dull. Please save me from this kind of self-indulgent, self-righteous clap-trap in the future: and please, let’s get the outstanding production values going for a more worthy show.

Best dance of the year: nominees are Maria Pagés and Company (part of the 2010 Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival), the Bolshoi’s Giselle, Bolshoi’s “Russian Seasons” mixed bill (Russian Seasons, Petrushka, Paquita pas de deux, not written up as I was gorging on dance and had no free time), Pointes of View (Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells, also didn’t write this show up), and the Royal Ballet’s October Mixed Rep (La Valse / Invitus Invitam / Winter Dreams / Theme and Variations). This is a hard one because I saw so much great dance this year. Natalia Osipova totally sold me on the Bolshoi and made me willing to play the pauper for the rest of August and September (summer holiday? what summer holiday?) so that I could see her dance as often as possible. Nearly every mixed bill had one weak point, but despite the loathing I felt for “Winter Dreams,” the Royal Ballet’s mixed bill for fall 2010 was so strong I wanted to get right back in line and have another ride. This was impressive given that I’d just seen about five shows by New York City Ballet and found myself yawning. The Bolshoi brought the most exciting program of dance to London that was available this year, but on this one night the Royal Ballet showed its dedication to the past and the future of dance in a way that really, really worked.

Most “I don’t get why people like this so much” play of the year: seriously, why did people think Clybourne Park was so funny? Is racism amusing? The joke passed me by, I’m afraid. Makes me think Scottsboro Boys might go over better in London than it did in the US …

Worst scheduling catastrophe award: initially I thought of this category as my way of venting about The Mikhailovsky Ballet coming to London as the same time as the Bolshoi and then Carlos Acosta squeezing in a week of performances while the Bolshoi was still here but as it turns out, this was only hard on my wallet – eventually I gave in and bought far more tickets than I planned – and proceeded to enjoy myself tremendously. So, at the end of the year, this award actually goes to the Living Structures/Old Vic for the Cart Macabre fuck up, which meant that I was booted out of a show I had tickets to … and then was never able to reschedule in part because they had to cancel all of the last week of their shows. They never said why. I never got to see it. I am resentful.

Biggest barking dog award: there were the shows I walked out of at the interval (Maurice at Above the Stag, A Rat’s Tale at Lyme Regis’ Marine Theatre, the Sellador Dracula at the Greenwich Playhouse, none of which I reviewed), the shows where I would have walked out had there been an interval (Ingredient X at Royal Court, Pieces of Vincent at the Arcola, Headlong Theatre’s Salome, Passion at the Donmar, that misbegotten Nutcracker I saw at the Pentameters Theater), but I guess for true disappointment, you have to be willing to come back – or be kept from leaving – all the while desperately hoping you will get back the value of your ticket. Thus, the nominees are: Paradise Found, Carlos Acosta’s Premieres, and Punchdrunk’s The Duchess of Malfi. Net hit? £140 for three tickets. Net joy? Zero, other than the pleasure of trashing them here.

Biggest loser? While there were many worthy contestants, the most shocking failure of these three was doubtlessly Paradise Found. With a cast of such high quality and so many worthies involved with the show, you really just couldn’t have seen this one coming – especially if you saw it early in the run. Seriously, THANK the bloggers that give you a chance to steer away from icebergs like this – if we weren’t sounding an early warning system, you, too, might have been dunked for a fat wad of cash AND a bad night out. As it was, we headed off a Broadway production and probably saved the investors rather a lot of money. The rest of the people, their careers won’t be too stained by this disaster.

This leaves me wondering where this blog should go in 2011 – should I make more of an effort to review the dance I see? Should I do more essays? One way or another, I’ve discovered there are limits to how much writing I can do – limits caused by having a day job *sigh*. Ah well, it keeps me in tickets at least, and that’s what counts.

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.)