How better to be introduced to a major Japanese theatre style than through a strong but familiar story? That's the only concession made to an audience unused to Kabuki; all other conventions of the form are rigidly observed – right down to the traditional yells of approval at climactic moments from a couple of audience plants. But these conventions aren't impenetrable; expression of moods is less apparent in the stylised body language, but faces and voices convey emotions with sometimes breathtaking elegance.
Somegoro Ichikawa's maddened Ophelia, in particular, is a tablet from which all marks of meaning have been piteously erased (even if the limp bough s/he carried made me think, for a lunatic instant, of Morrissey) – indeed, young Ichikawa, who also plays Hamlet and Fortinbras, is the undoubted star of the proceedings. We don't see enough of this form to know what makes for good Kabuki, but a revelation is a revelation in any language.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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