Friday, July 11, 2003
(Mister) Big In Japan
If you get the chance, grab a production, any production, at the Donmar. It's a gem of a theatre, with a reputation for top-notch drama most of the West End would kill for. Nicole Kidman memorably took her kit off here for The Blue Room, Martin Sheen did a great Caligula, and Sam Mendes put on what's probably the definitive theatrical version of Cabaret with Alan Cumming.
Its intimate theatre-in-the-round is also ideal for any piece by Stephen Sondheim, arch peddler of knowing tunes for thoughtful grown-ups. Over the years, they've given us his Company (a song-by-song dissection of thirtysomething Angst), Into The Woods (Little-Red-Riding-Hood and fairy-tale Angst), and Assassins (US Presidential Angst). Does a nice line in Angst, does our Stephen.
This year, it's the turn of Pacific Overtures (samurai Angst), a show first seen in the eighties. Set exactly 150 years ago, when a long-isolationist Japan was shot-gunned into accepting the West's "pacific overtures" of trade and détente, it's a wry critique of American global imperialism. As Japanese values kow-tow one by one to the all-conquering greenback, the samurai and lords of old Nippon vow to beat Uncle Sam at his own game. And, by embracing so completely the American Wet Dream, they take just a century to transform an ages-old culture of honour, serenity and tradition into one of money-grabbing, micro-chipped, Yankee-aping capitalism.
Hardly your razzle-dazzle, tits-and-ass kind of show, Overtures is played on a bare stage, by an all-male cast wearing sombre black kimonos, and gives more than a few passing nods to kabuki theatre. With a range of musical styles from east to west, and a theme too uncomfortably close to our own Starbucked and regime-changing world, I reckon it could just be that rare thing: musical theatre for people who can’t stand musical theatre.