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
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
TV It all goes wrong for Iain's Baked Alaska as 'bingate' ensues
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?