As the curtain rises on the second half of this show by Yamato Drummers of Japan, a happy purr goes up from the audience. On stage is the biggest drum yet, a glossy barrel of polished wood with drummers poised at either end. When they strike, the drum's beat is a deep boom that you can feel through the floor.
Yamato present Taiko drumming as physical theatre, with a mix of athleticism and showbiz. The company, founded by Masa Ogawa in 1993, has toured regularly since a sellout appearance at the 1998 Edinburgh Fringe. They're exuberant performers, leaping from drum to drum, flourishing drumsticks.
This show, Kami-Nari (Thunder), is simply staged. Twelve performers, men and women, play a range of traditional instruments - drums of all sizes, bamboo flute, cymbals, zithers. Costumes are plain, the set minimal. Banners are lowered for film projections as the huge drums are wheeled on and off. It starts with the whole company thundering away - the rhythms are fast and spectacular, with plenty of movement to match.
Ogawa puts lighter numbers next. Takeru Matsushita brings on a single drum, beating simple rhythms, encouraging the audience to clap along. Matsushita is interrupted by Midori Tamai, the heftiest of the performers. This becomes a competition number, the two men playing competing and overlapping solos.
It's cleverly managed. As each drags on a new instrument, they end up with contrasting sets of drums, showing off the range of sound. Always popular with audiences, it's carried out with great good humour and very nice timing.
It isn't all drumming. Other numbers are built around the shamisen, a stringed instrument something like a banjo, or around the bamboo flute. Ogawa is always careful to give the audience something to look at. The four shamisen players kneel in a line, the other performers grouped around them.
The show ends, of course, with a huge display, the whole company on stage with an orchestra of drums. It's energetic, noisy, varied and exhilarating.
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