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Theatre review: Sambaso mines Japan's rich performance traditions

Published on Aug 29, 2014 2:34 PM

This handsomely mounted doublebill of a comedic play and a ritualistic dance strikes a yin-yang balance as a sampler of Japan's rich performance traditions.

It works somewhat like an haute version of a cultural show, sans explanatory preludes. Both pieces have an uncompromising integrity, and the dignity and rigour of its experienced practitioners are palpable. There is no hint of dilution for a foreign audience, which is both its strength and its weakness. In fact, the post-intermission title piece, Sambaso, forgoes English surtitles completely.

The first half is the more accessible. Boshibari (Tied To A Pole) is a light-hearted Kyogen play centred on two mischievous servants who steal their master's sake while he is out on business. Kyogen is a form of traditional comic theatre performed as interludes to the more serious, austere Noh dramas.

Slapstick, killer lines and good timing are essential to comedy, and Boshibari charmingly embodies all three elements. The dialogue also has a parable-like clarity. Actors perform in controlled movements, and the vowels in their speech are courtly and elongated, showcasing the precision and training of their artform.

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