Anjin; The Shogun and the English Samurai, Sadler's Wells, London

2.00

 

If you think a play that sets out to celebrate the 400th anniversary of UK-Japan relations sounds in danger of becoming a dry history lesson, you'd be right.

Anjin, directed by Gregory Doran, the Royal Shakespeare Company's Artistic Director, evolved as part of an RSC project looking at what was going on in the world during Shakespeare's lifetime. It's based on the true story of William Adams (Stephen Boxer), from Kent, who was shipwrecked on the coast of Japan in 1600. Adams became the trusted advisor of Ieyasu Tokugawa (Masachika Ichimura), who then won a battle to become the top Shogun (military ruler) of the feudal government of Japan.

The play takes this simple and intriguing story and makes it incredibly complicated, losing its focus, lacking exposition and introducing superfluous elements. Some scenes are agonisingly long, while others are too short to pack the emotional punch they deserve. Several minutes are taken up with the old Shogun telling a young boy, who no-one really cares about, that he needs to be beheaded to keep the peace in Japan, yet mere seconds are spent on the crucifixion of one of the central characters.

The play is spoken partly in English, partly in Japanese, with surtitles. The linguistic confusion engenders sympathy for Adams as a stranger in a foreign land and creates humorous moments -- but it makes for a slightly stilted performance where characters waste time translating or repeating each other.

The play is rescued from boredom by a stand-out Lady Macbeth-style performance from Yoshiko Tokoshima as Yododono, a power-hungry mother intent on overthrowing the wise Tokugawa by manipulating her son. Yuki Furukawa also brings subtle depth to Domenico, a conflicted monk who befriends Adams.

Visually, it works. Yuichiro Kanai’s sliding screen sets with painted golden clouds and colourful cranes are imaginatively opulent. On the stage, an occasional bamboo house or hanging cherry blossom adds texture, and a series of backlit images of maps, Japanese art and shooting stars form a beautiful backdrop to the action.

It is possible to navigate this three-hour-long mind maze of historic facts without getting lost; if you invest half a day researching Japan’s major battles from 1600 to 1616 and the origins of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan. If, however, that doesn't sound like a fun way to spend your afternoon, then this play probably isn't for you either.

31 January - 9 February

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
    Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

    Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

    While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
    The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

    The best swimwear for men

    From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
    Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

    Mark Hix goes summer foraging

     A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
    Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

    With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

    Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
    Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

    Aaron Ramsey interview

    Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
    Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

    Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

    As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
    The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

    Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

    Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms