THE ANU’s Za Kabuki club claims to be the longest-running Kabuki theatre group outside Japan, and will this weekend present its 42nd annual evening of Japanese theatre – in Japanese.
They’re a game lot, and have in the past travelled to Japan and even performed there.
Using Aussie humour, somewhat modern social observations on peer-group pressure and lots of “big” acting, their shows always feature live-screened surtitles in English to help audiences understand what’s going on.
Shun Ikeda, the retired Japanese studies faculty member who founded the group in 1976, is directing this year’s play, the 1951 play, “Jiisan Baasan,” (Old Timers ) a domestic comedy centred on the samurai Minobe Iori and his long-estranged wife.
“CityNews” caught up with a spirited group of students at Canberra REP Theatre as they applied their heavy make-up for a dress rehearsal of the heart-warming domestic comedy they say has never before been staged by Za Kabuki.
“It’s comedy more than sad,” they said of the play. The set, complete with fake moon and even faker cherry-blossoms, suggested exactly that.
In traditional Kabuki the boys play girls, but at the ANU it’s usually the other way round, with Neha Jagannath taking on the role of the protagonist Iori and Laura Nuttall his/her drinking mate.
Waka Okumura, a member of the production team, told “Citynews” that Za Kabuki offered opportunities for students to show off not just their Japanese skills but their acting powers, as they worked to differentiate between the characters on stage.
In her view it would be in the second scene, a drunken interlude which ends in a death that the acting would be the most demanding and it was a stereotype to think that Kabuki required anything less.
“Acting in Japanese is a valuable enrichment,” she said. Once considered popular ‘street theatre,’ she noted, Kabuki had now become high culture and made use of unfamiliar vocabulary, puns and imagery, all helpful to students of language.
The plays in its repertoire, she said, reminded her of Shakespeare greatest works, written early 17th century at the very time when Kabuki first appeared.
Of course it’s not all heavy language study and they were having plenty of fun. By playing around with gender roles and introducing Australian humour, Okumura said, “we are bringing back the street theatre aspect.”
Za Kabuki’s “Old Timers”, Canberra Rep Theatre, 6.30pm October 11 and 12, and 1.30pm October 13. Book at canberrarep.org.au, 627 1950 or at the door.