by Inoue Hisashi.
Barbican Theatre Silk Street E To 8 May 2010.
Runs 3hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 0845 120 7550.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 May.
Lovely to look at, and craftily contrived.
In 1618 two Samurai meet for a sword-fight, a return match following their 1612 bout, where Musashi beat Kojiro. Around this, Inoue Hisashi’s 2009 play, directed by Yukio Ninagawa for his company, is an elaborate argument against letting grudges dominate lives.
As the piece reveals more about itself, its atmosphere reminded me of Scottish company Boilerhouse’s 2002 Running Girl. Both accumulate realistic events that leave an unsatisfied feeling of not having been fully explained, as if they had appeared from thin air and their presence were then treated as entirely natural.
Hisashi’s story develops with a mix of fighting and Buddhist meditation. Both samurai come to suspect an unexplained attempt to prevent them fighting, and by provoking the conflict they discover new bearings. Suddenly the fantastic stories that have been told, and the new temple that has arisen in the forest, are explicable, even if, in the way of Zen, their presence is explained in a sense by their absence.
It would be possible to explain more clearly, but that would also give the game away. And it’s worth playing, for Ninagawa deploys elements of traditional Japanese theatre styles – Noh, Kabuki, Kyogen – sometimes with a surprising comic impact. So, when the Samurai help a pair of vengeful women learn some essential swordsmanship, the sequence develops the rhythm and inflections of a tango.
It’s the funniest onstage learning-to-perform scene since Leonard Rossiter turned the hammy gestures of David Bird’s old-style actor into the Nazi gesticulations of Bertolt Brecht’s Arturo Ui. But there are more deeply-felt sections as well. And Ninagawa’s as rich and lavish as ever in his production’s visual and aural elements. As usual, Western music adds a heftily diatonic emotional weight, organ music playing an emphatic role.
And from the slow assembly of the temple amid its forest, through the recurrent swaying of the trees’ tall fronds in the wind, and their transformation at one point into a russet-clad twilight colouring, even a scene where the stage suddenly empties, everything is visually beautiful, the more so for being germane to the story and theme of this energetically-acted production.
Musashi Miyamoto: Tatsuya Fujiwara.
Kojiro Sasaki: Ryo Katsuji.
Otome Fudeya: Anne Suzuki.
Soho Takuan: Naomasa Musaka.
Munenori Yagyu: Kohtaloh Yoshida.
Mai Kiya: Kayoko Shiraishi.
Heishin: Keita Ooishi.
Chusuke: Yukio Tsukamoto.
Jinbei Asakawa: Kunihoro Iida.
Kanbei Asakawa: Fumiaki Hori.
Yuzen Tadano: Takeshi Inomo.
Director: Yukio Ninigawa.
Designer: Tsukasa Nakagoshi.
Lighting: Jiro Katsubisha.
Sound: Masahiro Inoue.
Choreographers: Uran Hirosaki, Juraku Hanayagi.
Fight choreographer: Masahiro Kunii.
Costume: Lily Komine.
Hair design: Yuichi Akiba.
Assistant director: Sonsho Inoue.