Posts Tagged ‘Gregory Doran’

This Anglo-Japanese co-production, subtitled The Shogun & the English Samuri, is timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the relationship between Britain & Japan. It was all down to a lowly seaman called William Adams who arrived in 1600 on a Dutch ship and went on to become the Shogun’s confidante. James Clavell used this as a starting point for his 1975 novel Shogun (Adams became Blackthorne), the third in his six-part  ‘Asian Saga’, made into a TV series with Richard Chamberlain. Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures is also based on the opening up of Japan at this time, but less specifically about Britain. Anjin, cowritten by Mike Poulton and Shoichiro Kawar, is no doubt more historically accurate.

When Adams arrives, the Jesuits are introducing Catholicism and presenting their one-sided picture of Europe. The country is in turmoil whilst its council of ministers, ruling on behalf of the 7-year old First Lord, vie for control. The Shogun Ieyasu has taken control as Regent, much to the annoyance of the mother of young Taiko. Adams mission is trade and once he has a modest grasp of local culture and politics, he befriends the Regent who welcomes his insight into the rest of the world, having never left Japan himself. Despite being a husband and father back home, Adams ‘goes native’, marries and fathers two children. When a British ship finally arrives some 13 years later, he declines to return and stays to facilitate trade between the countries.

It has an epic Shakespearian sweep, which is somewhat appropriate as Will was back home writing plays at the time. It encompasses battles, political manoeuvering, cultural clashes, religious bigotry and oppression and more personal stories. There is much humour, mostly at the expense of the Spanish and the British sailors, but also deeply moving moments; when Ieyasu has to explain to a child why he must be beheaded, it is heartbreaking. I think it could have been edited a little and there were moments when I felt it was too slow, but overall it’s a fascinating story that’s very well told in Gregory Doran’s production (for it is he!).

The production team are all Japanese and Yuichiro Kanai’s sets and Lily Komine’s costumes are gorgeous, with the video and lighting showing them off beautifully. The headwear of the warriors is particularly spectacular! There are a lot of scenes and screens aid the flow between them. The dialogue is both English and Japanese with surtitles for the other and this brings an authenticity to the story-telling. The cast is two-thirds Japanese, led by Masachika Ichimura as Ieyasu and Stephen Boxer as Adams who are well matched and you really do believe in their ‘special relationship’. Yuki Furukawa is excellent as a Japanese Jesuit convert who becomes Adams’ translator and friend and prevents the Jesuits from pumping the Regent with a mine of misinformation.

A very satisfying evening which made me reflect on the similarity and differences between these nations, which in my experience is as special a relationship as the other one!


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I saw this ‘lost’ Shakespeare play as Double Falsehood at the Union Theatre earlier in the year. This time it has been re-imagined by Gregory Doran with the resources of the RSC to help him. I still don’t know how much of a hand Shakespeare had in it, but I really enjoyed the play nonetheless.

I hadn’t realised that it was based on Cervantes. There’s an authenticity about the Spanish setting that’s created simply by Niki Turner’s costumes and Paul Englishby’s music. It has a passionate Andalusian feel and is staged with great pace.  Cardenio’s delay in obtaining his father’s approval to marry Luscinda means the Duke’s youngest son Fernando makes a move on her (but only after he’s slept with – raped? –  farmer’s daughter Dorotea). Thinking Luscinda has betrayed him, Cardenio disappears into the mountains for his King Lear moment. Fortunately, Dorotea searches for and finds him in order to pursue her claim against Fernando based on the fact that their sexual congress constitutes marriage and his marriage to Luscina is therefore invalid. It’s a good story and I’m now more disposed to believe Shakespeare was involved.

Oliver Rix makes an impressive professional debut as Cardenio. It’s easy to dislike Fernando as played oilily by an excellent Alex Hassell. Both Lucy Briggs-Owen and Pippa Nixon impress as the girls, as do a trio of dad’s – Nicholas Day and Christopher’s Ettridge and Godwin. The Swan is the perfect intimate space for this play; on this occasion with the bonus of fireworks and a superb coup de theatre involving a coffin!

Whether it is or it isn’t, it’s well worth seeing for what it is – a very good pay well staged and performed.

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