DANCE / Weird, man: Judith Mackrell reviews Takarazuka at the London Coliseum

Oh, you mean it's a freak show,' said my date, as I tried to explain what Takarazuka was going to be like. In fact this all-female Japanese review is too slick and gorgeous to be that. But as you watch beautiful women impersonating male heart-throbs in order to seduce both the 'women' on stage and the crowds of Japanese women in the audience below, and as you stare at the show's surreal overload of glamour and glitz you do feel weirdly displaced. The show seems to come from another planet - one called Kitsch Heaven - even if to the performers it is sincere and serious art.

Takarazuka was established to bring Western-style theatre to Japan, and some of the show's more startling moments arise from a confusion of culture as well as of gender. The first act is like a Broadway tour of ancient Japan in which 'male' samurai warriors looking like Kate Bush serenade the cherry blossom to music you'd normally hear on a television game show. The second act is a musical comedy in which Noel Coward meets Corporate Japan.

Its beguilingly ludicrous plot takes place at a party given to celebrate the opening of Mr Carbitz's new bank vault. It stars Carbitz's daughter, Annabel, and her fiance, Ralph, a heartbreakingly handsome safe-breaker who has given up crime to run a dry-cleaning business. Out of these unlikely circumstances are wrought moments of ineffable romance. When Ralph thinks he's losing Annabel he utters lines like, 'I'm a man who once held out his arms to a dream.' When he has to force open the vault to extract a child trapped inside, he does it by means of a corkscrew and a bottle of pink champagne (don't ask how).

Takarazuka is full of such 'men' who talk like Mills & Boon and look like young gods. They have been trained in the Clark Gable school of machismo, yet their manners have been polished at finishing school and their bodies finessed in ballet class. They are bold and dominating but they will never be sweaty or crude. Most charismatic is the 'top male star', Mira Anju, with her exquisite cheekbones and gracefully louche strut. Beside her, you hardly give the 'women' a second glance. They are shy-glanced creatures who keep their place until ready to fall into their more privileged girlfriends' arms. Their behaviour is so in line with heterosexual stereotype you almost stop thinking about gender confusion (until one scene where an erotic embrace between two 'men' sends a frisson through the entire audience).

The third part of the show is sequinned song and dance - Western showbiz with a Japanese accent and Japanese technology. The lavish sets and lighting are from another century but the finale trumps them all. Forty-eight dancers with ostrich plumes sprouting from their heads fill a golden stage. Down a long staircase walks Anju in a gold lurex tuxedo and enough feathers to fly away on. Beautiful and imperious, she has the audience squirming in her hand. But when she pauses to lead the final bow the unthinkable happens. This ravishingly buccaneer girl / man puts her hand over her mouth - and giggles.

Booking: 071-836 3161

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before