GRAND KABUKI
Royal National Theatre (Lyttelton), London SE1
Opened 4 October, 1991

Where the Kabuki Shakespeare at the Mermaid makes it easy for an English audience by using familiar stories, this magnificent production provides simultaneous earphone commentary to illuminate the three presentations (dating from between 1742 and 1893) as if they weren't already dazzling. A princess dupes a wicked priest in order to set free a captive rain-dragon; a court maiden becomes possessed by the spirit of the New Year lion; a heron-spirit grieves for her lost earthly existence and suffers the fires of hell.

The intense physicality of Nakamura Kankuro V, and the almost painfully beautiful onnagata female portrayals of Bando Tamasaburo V, take the evening far beyond mere spectacle and style. Here is grace, technical precision, sentiment... and, in the first piece, far more ribaldry than would have been countenanced on any English stage of the period. Tickets cost an arm and a leg, but for almost four hours of awesome richness they're more than worth it. Hop to it.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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