Tag Archives: review

Noh comment

I normally despise English puns on ‘Noh’, usually lame and trite. But after reading the delightful report of a Noh performance I found on a blog by WK Hellestal that I copy below, I couldn’t refrain from doing one myself. I personally sympathise with the spectators who really cannot cope with the Noh dramatic devices, and come up with the most fanciful observations – the variety of reactions that Noh theatre can generate is just amazing.

“Noh.

My first visit to the local Noh theater. I didn’t understand a damn thing, but apparently the performances are done in classical Japanese, so I’m not sure how much the native audience understood either.

Masks were interesting. Costumes were beautiful. Drumming and random shouting were cool. But I need a story, so I made one up in my head as I watched. A brief summary of the first act, as interpreted by me.

Ghost A: I don’t like you.

Ghost B: I don’t like you either.

Ghost A: Can we agree to put aside our differences for the moment, in order to join forces to terrorize these helpless townspeople?

Ghost B: My distaste for you has been ameliorated somewhat by the undeniable allure of your plan.

Mayor: No! Don’t terrorize us! We’re helpless!

Ghost A: Hahahaha! Terrorize!

Mayor: No, seriously. We’re not helpless. I’m a ghostbuster. I studied psychology and parapsychology under Dr. Venkman.

Ghost A: I don’t see no damn proton pack on your back.

Mayor: It’s, uh… being dry-cleaned. It’s due back today, though. Any time now.

Ghost B: Isn’t my fan cool? I have a fan. It’s super cool.

Mayor: Not just your fan, dude. That’s some wild-ass hair you got going on. I mean, I know it’s a wig, but it’s a fucking great wig.

Ghost A: Don’t get too chummy. We’re supposed to be terrorizing him, remember?

Ghost B: You’re not the boss of me.

Ghost A: Am too.

Ghost B: Are not.

Ghost A and B: Argh!

Mayor: My plan of setting the two against each other has succeeded. I’m now going to sit in the corner and remain there for the rest of the performance, moving only to shift my weight when my legs start hurting from this uncomfortably formal kneeling style.

End Act 1

The rest of the story continued in a similar vein. I assume.”

Here the link to the original post.

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Is this the future of Noh Theatre?

It will take me a few days to digest what I saw yesterday night at Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London. Theatre Nohkagu’s double bill of Kiyotsune and ‘shinsaku eigo noh’ Pagoda, written by British playwright Jannette Cheong and Richard Emmert has been a rich experience, and I already know I will want to come back to my notes again and again later. I would rather not give a review of the play, as it would be a limiting practice for something so formative. Aesthetic evaluation apart, the central question rising is ‘what is Noh’? Previously, in SOAS canteen, Emmert and I were talking about the nature of Noh from the perspective of the foreigner, and the purpose and future of Noh in English. The mind immediately goes to European opera, whose language was transformed from Italian into French, English, German, etc. We now accept all these languages as if they legitimately belonged to the opera world. My teacher Udaka Michishige was never involved in such transcultural Noh productions, however his judgment on postmodern experiments is rather positive, as they might be seeds that cross-fertilise a theatre form on the verge of stall. Experiments done in the West might well be source of inspiration for Japanese-based performers. Yokomichi Mario’s heavily debated Takahime, (re)appropriation of Yeats’s At the Hawk’s Well, already provided an example in the 1950s. It is pointless to discuss the value of Noh in English on the basis of personal taste as what floats on the surface of aesthetic judgment is not meant to stay. Let us look at what this new way of writing and performing Noh is telling us, about how issues of authenticity and cultural ownership have to be re-examined. Whose Noh was that? Will Noh be multilingual in the future? Probably its performers will be.