Pacific Overtures: A witty and innovative musical in mid-19th century Japan

Pacific Overtures: A witty and innovative musical in mid-19th century Japan

The Menier Chocolate Factory until February 24

Tickets: 020 7378 1713

Stephen Sondheim’s early musical has been through many changes since it was first written in 1976. It is the story of how Americans attempted to infiltrate and influence Japan in the mid-19th century –and this production benefits from being co-produced by Japan’s Umeda Arts Theatre.

The musical fusion of literate Anglo lyrics and non-Western instrumentation is fascinating, as is the choreography influenced by the Kabuki classical form of theatre.

Utilising a largely Asian cast, Matthew White’s production is superbly designed by Paul Farnsworth on a traverse stage along which screens and theatre furniture are wheeled speedily on and off.

Told in the present by a museum guide (John Chew), who changes language and scenes by remote control, it goes back to 1853 and the Shogun (Saori Oda) who promotes a low-level samurai Kayama (Takuro Ohno) to see off four US warships.

With just 10 songs ranging from the heartbreaking Someone In A Tree to the hilarious Gilbert & Sullivan-style Please Hello – in which a succession of foreign admirals arrive to negotiate trade deals – it is a witty and innovative musical with some late-flowering swordplay to indicate that culture clashes sometimes went beyond civilised negotiation.

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