Edinburgh Fringe 2011
A solo performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III by Japanese mime artist and physical theatre exponent Makoto Inoue. His style has been referred to as “neo Japanese mime art,” a result presumably of beginning his career as a stage, film and TV actor and after this working with
Hiroyasu Sasaki at the Japan Mime Studio. Since this training he has worked exclusively with physical theatre.
Although I have only a partial familiarity with Shakespeare’s original play it did not interfere with my overall enjoyment and appreciation of the piece. It is like nothing else I have seen. One does not need an in-depth knowledge of classical ‘sonata form’ to appreciate the impact of a Beethoven piano sonata, although such a studied approach does increase one’s awareness of the finer points as one knows what ‘signposts’ to listen for to orientate oneself.
The only prop that Makoto used was a red fabric doorway, or perhaps picture frame. All else was black, including his costume, apart from a small red scarf that he wore. His face however, was powder white. The work seem to revolve around playing inside this red fabric doorway, in front and behind as though this doorway were perhaps a gateway to another world, perhaps representing the inner and outer personality of Richard; the inner world devious and scheming and yet the outer a distorted image of honorability.
This work relies heavily on the sound design to achieve it’s affect. In fact the sound design is almost as important as the movement itself. Each intricate set of movements is accompanied by a highly designed musical image which compliments it and brings it to life. There are many arthritic bone-crunching sounds that unite with Makoto’s body movements as well as a beautiful musico-physical portrayal of Richard’s famous and well studied limp. There are hangings a-plenty as his red scarf is used to represent the recurring them of death and the hangman’s noose. There are sword fights impeccably timed with metallic shifting sounds down to what seems like the millisecond. The abstract action-enhancing sound design which ranged from the ambient to the industrial is counterpointed with a macabre and melodic waltz by Prokofiev arranged for a variety of ensembles in its various appearances. Like the physical movements and gestures the music comes round again in different forms as recurring themes are explored. He effortlessly shifts from one set of related gestures and movements to another, from softness to hardness, from light to dark, seamlessly and with eerie grace.
I tried, several days after seeing this piece, to go and see it again but alas it was only here in Edinburgh for a short period. I now feel like one of those Wagner lovers who, keen to get more form his operas, set about learning German so they can deepen their experience. In my case the language element would be deepening my understanding of how Shakespeare’s Richard is reflected in Makoto’s mime.
The images from the performance are still dancing in my memory and I strongly recommend that you see
Makoto Inoue in performance if you get the chance.