Last week, Kings Place in London was transformed into a stage for traditional Japanese Noh theatre. This art form comprising drama, music and dance dates back to 14th century Japan, and it’s rarely come to European shores. For two days, the Noh Reimagined festival treated guests to performances, musical recitals, talks and even workshops.
I am not particularly well-versed in the complex world of Japanese theatre (there’s Noh, kabuki, bunraku and many others…), so here’s a brief overview: The ‘actors’ in Noh aren’t actors in the western sense – they are simply storytellers who use their visual appearances and movements to suggest the essence of their tale rather than enact it. Little ‘happens’ in a Noh drama as the focus is more on the metaphor or message of the story being represented. Noh actors can be distinguished by the masks they wear and, traditionally, only men perform both the male and female roles. And what does Noh mean? ‘Skill’ or ‘talent’.
I went along to the launch night of Noh Reimagined, which was hosted by Japanese company Yakult – who are celebrating 20 years in the UK. No doubt you’ve all seen Yakult on your supermarket shelves but you might be forgiven for not knowing it’s a Japanese invention.’Yakult’ means ‘yoghurt’ in the universal Esperanto language but it’s actually a fermented skimmed milk drink that is very good for your gut. If you’ve never tried it, pick up a handy pack of seven to last you through one week!
As to the night’s performance itself, Noh plays can last anything from 40 minutes to more than 2 hours. The audience was treated to a ‘condensed’ programme of six famous Noh plays, which essentially introduced us to the highlights and main elements of this type of performance – the dance, music and singing. My favourite performances were the nohkan flute solo from Netori, a performance used as a special entrance for the spirit of a dead warrior, and the dance from Dojoji, a well-known legend of the jealous spirit of a women wrong by a priest of the temple. Of course, we were seeing the ‘abridged’ version of many Noh plays and I have yet to see a full-blown performance, but I certainly had a clearer idea of what it was all about afterwards.
This was a very unique event, the sort that makes you realise why living or near London can be so fun! I really hope we can see more Noh performances across the UK and Europe, as this truly is a one-of-a-kind performance art. You can read more about the Noh Reimagined project here.