Urashima Taro – Japan-UK 150

urashima taro at Shunt

Late News (again!)
Tonight until the 10th of May Rouge28 Theatre is presenting a performance of Urashima Taro at Shunt Lounge in London. This is part of the celebrations of 150 years of relations between Japan and the UK, Japan-UK 150. (we’ll forget about the original circumstances though.)
There’s a video clip on Rouge28′s website and the life-size bunraku style puppetry looks very exciting.

I haven’t seen this play yet but Shunt is an amazing club. I’ve played there with Frank Chickens. It’s underneath London Bridge Train station and has the sort of ambience where you’d expect modern day vampires to congregate in it’s crypts!

I believe day membership covers you for the performance and any other events that may be on and there’s a late bar and usually DJ’s so you can make a night of it.

If you miss this at Shunt you can also catch them at the Sprint Festival at the Camden’s People Theatre from Monday 9th to Wednesday 11th of June at 8pm or the Buxton Puppet Festival on Thursday 31st of July at 9pm

You can read the story of Urashima Taro in English and Japanese here.

–update 07May08–
I went along to Shunt last night and I can’t recommend it enough. You really have to go there. (I don’t like crowds so midweek suits me, but even when I’ve been there at a weekend it’s still the sort of place you could talk and doesn’t feel packed.)
It’s London’s most romantic club in an underground/ arty/ grunge/ flickering candles in beer mugs sort of way. You are in for a big surprise when you go through the small door next to the Tube station and down the seemingly endless dark tunnel towards the club. It’s gotten even bigger now they’ve opened up more of the “catacombs” underneath London Bridge.

Urashima Taro
It’s being performed in The Arena off the main bar. It’ll cost £5 on Thursday and £10 Friday and Saturday including entry to Shunt. Get a ticket with your day membership as seats are limited. The venue has a rough fringe feel to it but it works. There are few theatre experiences like this in London.

The play itself…
Unfortunately I feel it’s still in development. I hate to criticise it because I know how difficult theatre is, especially if you are a small operation on a tight budget. Here you have one actor and one stage crew carrying off an hour long show. I wanted to be amazed and excited.

I felt it was a bit monochrome. I think if I didn’t know a little about the Urashima Taro story I might not have been able to follow it. There are four characters, the Narrator, the Mother, Urashima Taro and the Woman under the sea (I presume the Dragon King’s daughter). But Taro is silent and the narrator and Princess meld into one character I feel. There should be more distinction between the characters. I also need to feel empathy or dislike or something for them. There could be more than a re-telling of Taro. I could be left thinking about the nature of seduction, or the changing world, or the duty of a son to his mother. But instead I just felt “is that it ?”
The audience needs to be entertained and challenged.

I feel it needs a bit more theatricality, a bit of spectacle, some colour.
The set’s main element of a fishing net worked well. I feel more could be made of the projections. Especially to add some colour or added layers to what’s going on.
I’d add some backlight, but theatre seems not to use backlight so much. I wonder how much power and lantern stocks were available, or rigging time.

A major element is a small traditional kamishibai puppet show. Even in the intimate space of the Arena this is a bit lost. I’d use projection, maybe live projection, or maybe use flash animation or video to give a technological twist to a traditional form. If there was a bigger budget I’d hire some stage crew and scale it up to life size. But things like this are so much easier as an idea, than trying to make them reality.

What was very successful was the life size Taro. He was operated with skill so despite only being a head and two arms you could sense a full bodies presence. There was also a lovely moment where he refused a drink, the movement was so apt. I would run with this element of the production. It’s what they promote on their website. It was the beginning of the piece I think and probably what people came to see.

I really wish them well.
I will certainly look out for other productions by Nakamura Aya -san. I’m interested in where this puppetry and these traditional forms can go. (I think she also did puppetry in the recent The Twin Stars, which unfortunately I couldn’t get to )

07. May 2008 by ロバート
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