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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
Muddled Amaterasu
Sayoko is the sun goddess
Efforts to merge British and Japanese traditions backfire
By BBC News Online's Steve Schifferes

Amaterasu, or the Sun Goddess, opens the Japan 2001 Festival at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Unfortunately, the production, described as a dance, music and theatre spectacular, is a mishmash of styles which weakens, rather than strengthens, the two cultural tradtions (British and Japanese) it is attempting to marry.

The attempt to combine the Japanese tradition of Noh and Kabuki with Britain's Shakespearean tradition badly misfires, producing a kind of Kabuki-lite.

In particular, Peter Bayliss's role as Sir M, a retired actor, fares poorly compared with the visually exciting images of the Japanese theatre.

His Shakespearean soliloquy on a bare stage, followed by a role as narrator in the Japanese myth of Amaterasu, is more ham than substance.

It is not helped by the poor sound system which blasts his amplified voice to every corner of the theatre.

Sayoko is Amaterasu
Japanese fashion model Sayoko transforms the stage everytime she appears
His role in the Kabuki scenes only succeeds in slowing down the pace and drama of the original, while his running commentary seems to distract attention from the Japanese emphasis on gesture and costume.

Fashion model

But the production does have two things going for it.

The first is Japanese fashion model Sayoko in the title role Amaterasu.

She transforms the stage every time she appears, dramatically regal in her spectacular Sun Goddess costumes, even by making the slightest head movement.

Sometimes she even walks downstage, while the occasional arm movement causes undue excitement in the audience.

However, the person who really steals the show is the female drummer Miyuki Ikeda.

Her playing of the huge Taiko drums - both with her hands and in the second half, with her feet - is a tour de force that gives the performance the dramatic energy it otherwise lacks.

Energy also reappears in the second half when the choreographer Cathy Marston is allowed her one and only dance sequence - an elegant number for her City Ballet of London dancers.

Written by committee

The production - which is billed as a joint Japanese-British collaboration - bears all the hallmarks of being put together by a committee, rather than a genuine integration of the two cultural traditions.

It has two artistic directors, Tomio Mohri and Harold King, and a British choreographer and scriptwriter and a Japanese musical director.

The music combines Japanese drumming with a Western cello piece, while the script picks up bits of Shakespeare and takes them out of context.

Most successful are the costumes - purely Japanese - and the most problematic is the set, which is too bare for the Theatre Royal's huge stage, the site of musical hits from Miss Saigon to the forthcoming My Fair Lady.

Those wishing to experience Japanese theatre would probably be better advised to attend one of the other Japanese cultural festival events which give an unadulterated version of the Kabuki tradition.

Amaterasu plays at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London from 24-26 May

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