Ninagawa at the Barbican in May


Ninagawa returns to the Barbican Theatre London for 4 days in May (5th to the 8th) in what might be becoming an annual event I hope. I’ve seen the two previous productions, Coriolanus and the kabuki version of Twelfth Night. This time it’s not Shakespeare. It’s a play about the famous swordsman Musashi, the author of the Book of Five Rings.
It’ll be entirely in Japanese with English surtitles. The Japanese is usually difficult and fast, however I found the women’s voices easier to follow and it helped that I knew the English versions of both the previous plays and could even remember some speeches from Coriolanus I had memorised for an exam over 20 years ago. I must re-read Eiji Yoshikawa‘s epic novel so I can follow things a bit easier. It’s a great book, although I believe the play starts where this book ends so maybe I’ll be able to find out what happens to Otsu.
I hope for some great swordplay, the literally blood-spattering finale of Ninagawa’s Coriolanus in the manner of Kurosawa’s Sanjuro was such an impressive image. I have expectations of some skillful stagecraft.

My wife tells me the lead actors are quite famous in Japan and expects there to be lots of Japanese women there because the actor, Tatsuya Fujiwara, is a bit of a heart-throb! You might have seen him as Light in DeathNote. It’s only playing for 4 days and when I booked tickets last night, all the cheap seats were unavailable and a fair amount of the stalls and circle were sold as well. So available seats are from £28 to £40.

The cheap seats might still be available as freebies if you are under 25 as part of Barbican’s free-B events

Review of the production in Japan.

image from kirainet’s flickr photostream used under creative commons license

02. April 2010 by ロバート
Categories: 01 news • 新聞 | Tags: , , , | 4 comments

Comments (4)

  1. Hello. A nice picture of Musashi here! I went to see the play last night, the first night of the London performances. I enjoyed the evening very much, but I thought the audience seemed a bit subdued despite the standing ovation they gave at the curtain call, perhaps it was because of the language and / or cultural barriers? It is hard to enjoy comedies in foreign language. I myself have always struggled with comedies in English.

    I love to read what you think about it. Hope you have much fun! Yoshi

    • Hello, Yoshi-san. Thank you for your comment.
      We went last night. It was very enjoyable. Maybe the audience was also a bit subdued but I think they were about 80% Japanese so it wasn’t about language or culture. Language is probably the biggest barrier for non-Japanese. The subtitles are a very sparse and un-nuanced translation. But I think people respond to craft and physicality regardless of language and culture. The Tango sequence went down very well as did to the more expressive performances. The Musashi role though was very dour and stiff and didn’t allow for the fun the other characters had. Cultural references are going to be hit and miss. I recognised the Noh stage, but not necessarily the Noh references for instance. (I would have used incense in a staging, it was the one element missing from the sense of a forest temple) I think Ninagawa’s Shakespeare productions work better in this respect because English audiences have a knowledge of the original text and can enjoy the transformations.
      It was also nice to see Ninagawa take a curtain call as well, I think it’s the first time I’ve seen a director called out on stage.

  2. Robert, thank you for your reply. I am glad you enjoyed it very much. As you wrote, the surtitles condensed the original speeches extremely so that verbal humour was not conveyed well although the translator’s skill was admirable.

    The Tango sequence and the octopus dance were sidesplitting, and so was the five-legged, six-person exercise (I don’t know what you may term it in English). However, the most impressive to me is Inoue’s message of pacifism, both political and personal, couched in all parts of the play.

    You are right in pointing out the absence of incense. It must have been very effective to Western audience. However, without an alter and a statue of Buddha or other saint, it seems to me to be meaningless. Yoshi

  3. If I were staging the play I’d open up the doors to the temple in the last scene to reveal a statue of Kannon. And have the spot remain on the statue rather than the monk for the closing speech.
    Musashi was depicted as sculpting in Yoshikawa’s book. I wonder if the real person sculpted? I know he painted.

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