Globe to Globe: Shakespeare’s Coriolanus in Japanese

“The man who ceases to be astonished is hollow, possessed of an extinguished heart. If he believes that everything has already happened, that he has seen it all, then something most precious has died within him – the delight in life.” (Herodotus 440 BC)

It was with this quote in mind that Globe to Globe Festival Director Tom Bird set out on a worldwide mission to “find Shakespeare in unlikely places”. Naturally, this search took him to Japan, in search of the perfect theatre company to perform a Shakespeare play in Japanese at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.

It wasn’t so much a case of finding a good production – there’s plenty of Shakespeare in Japan. It was more a case of finding the right people to perform in the unusual space that is Shakespeare’s Globe. It’s a theatre where the house lights are left on throughout, where there is no clear line between actors and audience, where, if it rains, you get wet. This kind of theatre wouldn’t suit all theatre companies, but Tom Bird’s mission was to find 37 groups of people from 37 different countries, to perform 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 languages, as part of this incredibly unique festival which is running from 21st April to 9th June 2012.

At a talk I attended this evening, Tom Bird described his adventures in Japan, from bento boxes on shinkansen, to bathing in the bathhouse in Kyoto. While killing time in Kyoto, the stressed theatre director explored the temples of Higashiyama, and was left with a feeling that “everything would be well in the end”. He found himself reminded of the work of David Mitchell, and that in turn reminded him that without Shakespeare, people like Mitchell probably wouldn’t be where they are today.

Quite randomly, while in Moscow, Bird had come across a small Japanese theatre company called Chiten who were, at the time, performing Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. He went to Kyoto to meet with them in the autumn of last year (after being unable to secure another Japanese theatre company the previous spring), and the rest is more-or-less history. Communicating mainly in French with theatre director Motoi Miura, Chiten’s production of Coriolanus was born.

Image © Tsukasa Aoki

With some of the plays in the Globe to Globe festival, the theatre company have a special message to convey, and the play was chose carefully for that purpose. This is not the case for Coriolanus, and Bird doesn’t see any particular reflection of Japanese historical or current affairs in this play. It was just the right choice for Chiten.

Coriolanus will be performed in Japanese, just as the other plays will be performed in 36 other different languages. I was glad to hear that there will be no surtitles. Bird didn’t like the idea that people would be distracted from the stage by reading surtitles (he called it the “Wimbledon effect”), so instead there will just be short scene summaries projected up for the audience to read, so they can keep up with the story. Bird hopes that a lot of the audience will be native speakers of whichever language the play is in, and that those who do not understand will simply “let the music of the language wash over them”.

Coriolanus (コリオレイナス) will be at Shakespeare’s Globe in London on 21st and 22nd May. Ticket prices range from £5 to £35. Book here.

For more information about the Globe to Globe festival, please take a look at their website.

2 thoughts on “Globe to Globe: Shakespeare’s Coriolanus in Japanese

  1. As someone who will have to let the music of the language wash over me, this review has made me look forward to the play even more 😉


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