PACIFIC OVERTURES - 2 AUGUST 2003, LONDON

A complete contrast to anything seen in this year was Pacific Overtures at the Donmar. For once seats were on all sides of the stage with the orchestra level with the top balcony. The stage had light wooden floors lit from the side plus two entrance platforms again in light wood. The all male cast were dressed in black variations of Japanese dress.

The story of Pacific Overtures is the arrival of the American ships on the Japenese shores in 1853 wanting to trade. The story is told from the Japanese perspective told via a narrator / shogun, the elevated police chief Kayama and Manjiro (the westerned Japanese, saved from death). We see the reaction of the country as to how to deal with the ‘black dragons’ on the horizon.

We see the plans from the Emperor to the local madam and her girls, trying but unsuccessfully stopping not only the Americans from descending upon them but also the English, French, Dutch and Russians. This is epitomised in a wonderful opening to act 2 as the representatives of this countries bemuse the Japanese in an hilarious number.

The style of the production was kabuki as the men played women, with only adding hair pieces, fans or kimono bands, and successfully characterised all the feminine demeanours from wife, mother to girls. After not knowing what to expect I thoroughly enjoyed this show, which was extremely funny and witty and engaging. As a score it is extremely accessible with highlights being ‘Chrysanthemum Tea’ as Jerome Pradon’s Shogun’s mother ensures in the most final manner her son’s demise, ‘Welcome to Kanagawa’ as the madam and her girls prepare for the American visitors, ‘Please hello’ as the new Shogun is surrounded by all these nations wanting to trade and the more quieter sweet ‘Pretty Lady’ as the English sailors attempt to talk to a geisha.

The cast of 10 were uniformly excellent and strong, each having moments to perform solo or as a company. This is a wonderful piece of theatre, again the Donmar (or the original Chicago production) shows how simplicity is setting still provide an engaging, entertaining quality piece of theatre.

The final epitaph of the show is that regarding trade Japan has gone from being taken over by the world to taking over the world.