Thursday, 19 July 2012

Five Modern No Plays - Yukio Mishima


Having been inspired by The Lady Aoi in the Traverse Plays collection, I quickly got hold of this, which includes Aoi and four other reworkings by Mishima, translated and introduced by his friend Donald Keene.

Two of the plays, it has to be said, don't work very well.  Kantan (Life and Death) and The Damask Drum (Aya no Tsuzumi) are from No's earliest period where dance was much more important than story.  Mishima therefore struggles to timeshift them to a theatre in which text is all and dance more or less irrelevant. 

That said, the use of dance in Sotoba Komachi is beautiful and touching.  This is the story of a ninety-nine year-old female vagrant who meets a young poet in the park and is encouraged by him to recall her long-gone youth.  Eighty years ago Komachi was the girl in the life of Captain Fukakusa.  They mingled in the highest society.  They went to glittering balls.  They danced.  As she remembers, she and the poet dance - and on waltz other guests from that long ago soiree, gossiping about Komachi, complimenting her on her beauty, her grace, her taste in fashion.  And all the time we are watching a centenarian tramp swaying in the arms of a penniless poet.  Exquisite - a coup de theatre every bit as stunning as the boat in Aoi (Aoi no Ue).

The final play in the collection Hanjo (Lady Han) is, like Aoi, based on an original by the fifteenth century master Zeami.  There is no sweeping theatrical gesture: instead, we have a curiously moving study of a mad girl who waits every day at the station for her long-lost lover, but when he finally shows up she refuses to believe it's him.  One of the plays that stays with you long after you finish it.

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