Augustine’s, 7 – 30 August 2010
Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide
If you or I tried cross-pollinating plot elements from Shakespeare and Japanese exploitation cinema with aspects of characters from anime, manga and folklore we’d end up with some hideous, limping mutant thing. A-LIGHT try it and get a sleek hybrid organism they’ve named Death of a Samurai.
We’re in an enchanted wood straight out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A moody samurai, a beautiful assassin and a gutsy ninja (overtly based on the title character from Naruto) are all trying to get their hands on a girl (whose costume references Sailor Moon) with the power to confer immortality (a MacGuffin cribbed from Ryuuhei Kitamura’s Versus). And those are just the references I picked up. Cue chases, intensive training sequences, stylised fight choreography (incorporating shout-outs to Dragonball, amongst others) and emotions (including Love-In-Idleness-induced infatuation) writ very, very large.
Knowledge of the specific reference points is not necessary for understanding the show, though some familiarity with the general frames of reference is helpful when trying to determine whether or not to take any of it seriously (crash course: don’t). The few salient points of the plot are given in English, and the storytelling from then on is predominantly physical, so understanding Japanese isn’t necessary either.
The visuals, from costume and make-up to choreography, are elaborate and sumptuous, and the cast approach their roles with 100% commitment. This may not be a subtle nor a highbrow piece of work, but neither is it played entirely for laughs; the characters may essentially be caricatures, but you’ll be surprised how attached you’ve become to them by the end.