Saturday, 9 February 2013

#ESPspotlight Review: ANJIN: The Shogun & The English Samurai


Anjin is the true story of William Adams, the English Sailor on a Dutch ship, wrecked off the coast of Japan in 1600, turned 'Blue-Eyed Samurai' by the force of a surly, immovable Shogun. The 400-year-old tale of the beginning of Anglo-Japanese trade relations, inspired the novel by James Clavell and subsequent TV series starring Richard Chamberlain (otherwise known as the reason the box was invented to my Mum).

The 3-hour, dual-subtitled, stage adaptation, brought to Sadler's Wells by Gregory Doran, Artistic Director for the Royal Shakespeare Company, is a bitter tale of battle and acceptance on many levels. Though the heavy topics - history, religion and honour to name but a few, are difficult to follow at times due to the sheer deluge of information squashed into the window, the dry comedy that runs throughout and the absolutely breathtaking costumes save you from being overwhelmed.


In Stephen Boxer's depiction, you see the ripple effect of inner turmoil, confusion and indecision in a self-described "divided man" afraid of losing his identity.


As he wrestles to come to terms with the only thing he really seems to miss about England, his beloved daughter - not so much the wife, once he meets a beautiful (much younger) geisha, oddly enough...400 years or 400 minutes, some things will remain the same throughout the ages to time indefinite. Though comical, there's something very 'mid-life crisis' about his willingness to accept the ways of Japan once the sweet innocent begins to 'aid his transition' to their way of life. There's a pun in there somewhere about genuine horsepower pre-shiny red sports cars, but I'm going to leave it well alone...

Back to Mike Poulton and Sho Kawai's scripted tale; as you watch Adams struggle to acclimatise to Japanese culture and everything that comes with it, without losing himself, you also see the environment around him do the same when introduced to Christianity, English customs and a very different way of thinking.

Masachika Ichimura is a wonderfully belligerent Shogun; tough, stoic and defiantly difficult to his literal last breath. Yoshiko Tokoshima's Yododono was probably the scariest character of the entire production. Picture a Japanese Alexis Carrington meets that character that crawls out of the TV in The Ring, with a deranged Toddlers & Tiaras-type parental twist. And by 'deranged', I do mean bat crazy. We're talking the reason Social Services and tranquilisers were invented, someone remove all people, not just her own son and grandson from her vicinity-type bat crazy

The evolving relationship between the leads is the main example of juxtapositions that really keeps this going through to the end though.

What starts out as a dislike of stark opposites to begin with, ends up as something akin to best friends and brotherhood. Just as the bond between two young priests begins as a close mentorship degenerates into a student becoming the disappointed superior to a cowardly wimp, lying to salvage his own skin at the height of war.

A very clever, if slightly long treatment of an intriguing story, Anjin closes Saturday 9th February (Discount tickets are available for final show). 

ES ;)