Kuli-Kala: Revenge of the Samurai, Stratford Circus

Last Wednesday I went to see Kuli-Kala: Revenge of the Samurai at Stratford Circus theatre. This musical samurai drama marks the first ever Japanese theatre production to host its premiere in the UK. The production was in London from 24-28 November and will continue its world tour, next stop France!

With a small cast of around 10 (plus 3 in the orchestra) the production took three years to complete and uses Ta-Te, a form of ritualised sword play choreographed for performance. 30-Delux, the company behind the production specialise in the art of Ta-Te which is clear to see as the choreography was beautiful, and the actors never missed a beat, it is the highlight of the play.

However, the first thing to catch my eye was the costumes. The three female ninjas are styled to represent their  animal reincarnation; butterfly, deer and boar  accompanied by beautiful tattoos. The costumes use traditional kimonos and samurai wear with a twist. Even the orchestra had beautiful costumes, I especially loved Toshihiko Sahashi (keyboard) who had a checked dress and big ruffle collar – like a Harajuku Shakespeare.

As a samurai musical drama the soundtrack is vital to the performance, especially as there is little dialogue. All the core emotions and narrative are communicated through song. Led by a male and female vocalist rather than the characters themselves, they sing accompanied by the orchestra who use a keyboard, koto and electric shamisen. The songs performed range from pop to opera.

Since the production is in Japanese there are subtitles for the dialogue and songs but to help, Lynne Hobday narrates to explain the legend in detail. This seems appropriate since she was the person who helped translate/subtitle the play for English speakers. Although it may seem minor  I must mention that I am pleased at the placement of subtitles, something I had been concerned about prior as when I watched a Japanese production at The Barbican the subtitles were placed to the far right of the stage meaning it was very difficult, if not impossible to read and watch the play at the same time.

My only gripe is the screens that used the projected scenery were creased and the animations were not exposed enough so it looked peculiar and faded. This small detail made the play seem amateur, which it clearly wasn’t but the production would have been just as good without the use of these, as the poor quality was distracting.

At the end of the production all the cast gathered on stage to speak to the audience. Charmingly exclaimed how much he loved fish and chips and how he could eat it everyday! He then asked us if we liked sushi, where a big yes soared through the crowd. The director of the production then entered the stage sharing his delight and love of London.