USAGI YOJIMBO – Southwark Playhouse, London.
“I am a rabbit!” Usagi Yojimbo is visually stunning. From the projections, to the costumes to the fight scenes, it’s easy to imagine what the show looks like in its original comic book form. The Southwark Playhouse provides a great home for Stewart Melton’s stage adaptation of Stan Sakai’s endearing tale of growing up.
You wouldn’t know that Usagi Yojimbo is Jonathan Raggett’s stage debut. The sweetness he brings to Myomoto Usagi, as he learns from his mountain lion sensai and receives his top knot to become a Samurai, makes him the perfect hero. Raggett also flies through the air on several occasions; the fight direction throughout is of an incredible quality. Bamboo sticks, twin sai, swords; the performers look skilled using several weapons.
Joji Hirota’s music is the perfect backdrop to the piece. Drums, wind instruments and voice, his range of skills are spectacular. Along with the set, the music further roots the production into this world of ancient Japanese myth and legend that engrosses you for 90 minutes.
At times there is so much going on it’s difficult to know what to focus on, Nina Dunn’s projections are impossible to look away from. Birds flying across the sky, turn to an evening rain storm, and a mosquito is cut in half and lands on the floor in front of you. Every aspect of the piece has been well thought out, but occasionally it seems you’re missing out on action because there’s so much to see.
There are ears and manes galore, and everyone will be wanting a pair of the bunny feet shoes. Alongside Ele Slade’s costumes, the angular, animal makeup gives the performance even more of an anime feel.
Before the show begins, three of the ensemble are already playing on stage. They’re hopping round the stage whilst children in the audience shout out suggestions to the characters’ game of charades, before learning essential samurai moves. The whole performance is the perfect alternative to a pantomime this Christmas. That’s not to say that adults won’t enjoy practicing their warrior skills, and its flair often makes you forget you’re watching a kid’s show altogether. A sweet and charming piece of theatre.
By Joanna Trainor
28th Nov 2014 – 4th Jan 2015
Southwark Playhouse, London, SE1.