A boy

One of the challenges of staging A Midsummer Night's Dream is, as Peter Brook has said, to find a meaningful contemporary equivalent for the fairies. Deguchi's solution, in a production which is scrupulously faithful to the text, is to use a framing device.

The boy seems to be the key to interpretation of this 'pre-textual' scene. Who is the man? What is he doing? What are the items in front of him? Why is he in despair? What is his relation to the two women? Who is the boy? Why does he have wings? Why is he a schoolboy? How does he help the man? Why do they embrace? Thoughts along these lines should aid engagement with Deguchi's interpretation of Shakespeare's Dream.

> School 1. Opening Frame

 

framing device

This kind of framing is not uncommon among modern Japanese directors contemporising the classics (Suzuki Tadashi, Noda Hideki, Deguchi Norio etc.). It occurs in some modern British productions (Katherine Hunter's "King Lear") and is, of course, also a common Elizabethan convention (Shakespeare's Induction to "The Taming of the Shrew").

In interview (1995) with the "Shakespeare in Japan" seminar group, Deguchi himself has given the following explanation:

"When I directed the School version, I was ambitious to make it successful. Because I was presenting it at the large auditorium in Theatre Cocoon in Shibuya, I thought I had to do something unusual and spectacular....In those days Shakespeare was becoming increasingly remote from our contemporary social reality. So I got the idea of pulling it back to our daily reality by returning Shakespeare to the level of my personal history. For me, making it "Japanese" is not the ultimate aim. The important thing is to find a place where I and the text can converge".

> School 1. Opening Frame

> School 41. Director's Story

 

Aoi Sanmyaku

This was the theme song of a film called "Aoi Sanmyaku" made in 1949, which was based on Ishizaka Youjiro's novel of the same name, serialized in the Asahi Shimbun in 1947. This popular song was sung as a duet by singers Fujiyama Ichiroi and Nara Mitsue. At this time Japan was under the control of the Occupation Forces.

The song was released at a time when Japanese industry began to revive under the so-called Dodge Line (1948-50). Following its drastic anti-inflation measures, the Japanese saw the "snowslide" of inflation disappearing. At the same time, the "yamiya", who profiteered by selling foods and other daily essentials in short supply during the inflationary period 1945-9, also began to disappear. "Green Mountain Range" symbolized people's hope for economic recovery. "Aoi Sanmyaku" was a representative "seishun shousetsu" (Adolescent novel) and "seishun eiga" (adolescent film) because it featured young, innocent lovers "free" from the demands of sex.

> School 26. Bottom's Song

 

rajio taisou

Initiated in 1928, soon after the introduction of radio programming, radio calisthenetics was incorporated into school curricula, especially primary schools. It therefore evokes group memories of school, particularly summer holiday excursions.

> School 26. Bottom's Song

 

'cute' but physically inventive

Noda Hideki is a director whose enormous popularity in the 80s was largely built upon spectacular staging, exuberant acting, and appeal to "youth culture" concerns. The ingredients of this appeal can be seen in his production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream".

> Glossary item: physical acting

> School 27. Titania sees Bottom

Noda Hideki's A Midsummer Night's Dream picture 3 - see also 1, 2

a variety of inflections

Who is culturally 'putting on' who with a change of costume? Thisbe is no kimono-clad Cho Cho san.

Where Bottom is 'in command', looking 'cool' (as befits an American - or should that be Japanese - wearing American uniform), Thisbe looks ill-at-ease, as well a Japanese Carmen might be - or, for that matter, a man passing himself off as a woman.

A potential twist to the political/sexual subversion is the 'naturalness' of onnagata (female impersonator) performance in Kabuki and Elizabethan tradition. At this time, massive Japanese student demonstrations against AMPO (Japanese government accomodation of US forces in Japan) were just around the bend, as was the 'sexual revolution' of the 60s.

The AMPO demonstrations were sparked by American 'double-speak', for, after raising democratic hopes with some positive reforms to Japanese institutional life, the US made an infamous 'U-turn' at the start of the Korean War in 1953, carrying out a "Red Purge" of the Labour Union Movement in which more than 20,000 lost their jobs. This U-turn saw the Americans encouraging the return to power of many wartime conservatives.

Though pitched in a light-hearted key, Deguchi's production is not innocent.

> School 44. Sgt. Bottom's Dumbshow

Opening Frame - Bar Version

The scene is set at a bar called "The Wood of Athens" before business hours. Several "hostesses" (later to be Fairies) are seated at the bar and tables; they have nothing better to do but apply makeup and read as they wait for customers.

A young barman (later to be Puck) enters slowly. He is absorbed in reading a book that looks like a script (MND?). After trying an elaborate dance step with gestures suggestive of his later role, he goes over to the bar to prepare for his job.

He is joined by a young newly employed "hostess", who, incongruously enough for this setting, is in a demure white knee-length dress. (She is to be the fairy of Act Two Scene One.) All the other "hostesses", dressed in revealing black, ignore her, one of them responding with only a curt nod.

A construction worker (later to be Bottom) enters timidly. He is rather out of place in this expensive bar, and the "hostesses" stare insolently at him. (Does he have enough money to pay for their services? Their take-home pay will depend upon how much they can get him to drink at a very stiff mark-up.) The labourer furtively signals to a "hostess" in a skimpy black dress.

Immediately a rowdy group of local patrons (later to be other mechanicals) enter and are greeted cheerfully and noisily by the other "hostesses". The bar springs to life.

(In contrast to the "Bottom" of following scenes, the Bottom-figure here is presented as shy and isolated; the other mechanicals sit at a separate table.)

Two young men and women, dressed like university students, enter next and go to a table upstage right. One of the women (later to be Helena) clings to one of the men (later to be Demetrius), who violently throws her to the floor. She runs off distressed, leaving the two men (Demetrius and Lysander) to compete for the attentions of the other woman (Hermia).

Instantly a black clad man and woman (who appear to be the proprietors) enter from behind the counter quarrelling violently. She is reproving him for his unfaithfulness. People around them try to separate them, and, in the ensuing melee, the young barman (Puck) is knocked unconscious and sent flying across a table. In dead silence, with other characters frozen at their places, the novice bargirl in the white dress crosses the room to him under a spotlight that highlights them as the others remain frozen in the shadows. She picks up his script from the floor where it has fallen, and holds it like a precious object. When he rises, she hands it back to him.

The play starts with the first words spoken in a gloomy manner by Theseus and Hippolita. (see Bar 50. Closing Dance comments)

(Note that the patrons and "hostesses" remain seated at tables and the counter watching the "play" when they are not playing their own roles.)

> Bar 1. Opening Frame

 

Sexual Fantasy

"Lechery, sir, it [drink] provokes, and unprovokes: it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance." [Macbeth, 2.3.26-28]

 

In "Interview with Deguchi Norio", Deguchi comments:

"When I did the Bar Version of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Jean

Jean for the first time, I had some adolescent experiences in mind such as when you get drunk and have a relationship with a woman whom you don't love! I thought such 'midsummer night' experiences should occur in a "bar". I used to go to a bar in Hongou and the madam, who wore a black jumper, reminded me of Titania when she shook the shaker. There was no bartender who looked like Puck, however I just wanted to project the image of the madam and the space of the bar into the play.

Just as in the "green world", desire becomes more conspicuous in a bar full of drunken men and women. The fact that Japanese society is fairly tolerant towards drunken people makes the licence of this production not so implausible.

> Bar 1. Opening Frame

> Bar 22. Lysander bare chested

Shougekijou undou

The late 1960s and early 70s witness the rise of a new theatre movement called ANGURA ENGEKI ("underground theatre") or SHOUGEKIJOU UNDOU ("Little Theatre Movement"). This movement, which has continued up to the 1990s, has produced such various theatre practitioners as Tadashi Suzuki, Juurou Kara, Yukio Ninagawa and Shuuji Terayama (in the first generation) or Shou Ryuuzanji, Hideki Noda, Takeshi Kawamura and Sanae Iijima in subsequent generations. The movement started in reaction against the established modern Japanese theatre, SHINGEKI, which began in the early 1900s with the purpose of enlightening the public by presenting Western plays in imitation of their original Western productions.

The Little Theatre Movement took shape as a denial of the shingeki movement:

(1) denial of the modern idea of realism which relied upon the invisible fourth-wall dividing audience and proscenium stage;

(2) denial of the supremacy of dramatic text as literary work;

(3) re-evaluation of traditional Japanese theatre and popular entertainment.

Deguchi started his career as a director of Bungaku-za Company, one of the leading Shingeki companies in the late 1960s. Yet he was also influenced by his contemporaries in the Little Theatre Movement. This is why he organised his Shakespeare Theatre Company and produced all Shakespeare plays at a little theatre called JeanJean, situated in the basement of a church in Shibuya, downtown Tokyo.

> Mask 29. Scared by an ass

 

Sukiyaki Song

The Japanese hit known in the west as "Sukiyaki" was released in Japan in 1961as as "Ue wo Muite Arukou" ("I will walk on with my head high"). It was sung by Kyuu Sakamoto, composed by Hachidai Nakamura with lyrics by Rokusuke Ei. (The song became the number one hit in the United States in 1963.) The literal translation of the first part of the song is as below:

I will walk on with my head held high
so that my tears will not run down.
On a spring day I remember the night
when I was left alone (on my own).
 
I will walk on with my head held high,
counting the stars blurred by my tears.
On a summer day I remember the night
when I was left alone (on my own).

> Mask30. Sukiyaki Song

 

Kabuki aragato

Heroic and hyperbolic acting style developed in the late 17th century by Ichikawa Danjuro 1.

> Mask 19. Transformation routines

 

Commedia dell'arte

"Theatrical form of improvisational slapstick comedy that began in Italy and flourished in Europe from 1600-1750. Commedia actors used masks and standardized costumes to create popular stock characters." They improvised on the basis of standard plots, drawing on a rich repertoire of lazzi , or "bits of traditional comic business".

See Theatrical Imagination, JH. Huberman, J. Ludwig & BL Pope, eds., (Harcourt Brace: Fort Worth, 1997), p.511, p.515.

> Mask 12. Lysander reasoning

> Mask 29. Hermia subdued

this masked context

In a recent interview, Deguchi describes how the discovery of masks led to a way out of an 8 year slump following on from his initial period of success at the JeanJean theatre:-

"For about 8 years after the JeanJean, most of my works were failures... I had a lot of ideas but they didn't work out well onstage...it was like that. Everything looked artificial. My experienced actors were gone, and new members were young. We were looking for something we could present naturally when we happened to play Comedy of Errors. I thought that the actors had uninteresting faces, that their noses didn't look right and so on. Then I had the idea that, if they wore masks, they could increase their stage presence. Also I thought it would produce a distancing effect which would remind the audience that this was a performance; then they could watch without being disturbed by other considerations...Comedy of Errors has been played in Commedia dell'arte style. That's why I decided on masked performance."

(Interview with Deguchi Norio, April 4, 1995 at the John Manjirou pub near Shakespeare Theater's Kouenji Studio)

> Mask 2. Lovers in masks

 

physical acting

Deguchi has recently had this to say about "physical" acting and Shakespearean dramaturgy:-

"In the world of Shakespeare, there are vigorous changes. Suddenly everything changes in a moment. Those changes are very important. We are doing a silly exercise nowadays, which is called 'Becoming an octopus'. While you are playing an octopus, suddenly you are told to become a globefish. The actors learn how to change from being soft to being hard. They love each other as octopi and hate as globefish. Its very important to learn the art of fast transformation.... Speed and flexibility are the basic elements of acting in Shakespeare. Transformation is a basic element of acting anyway, so, of course its important. It is very important how they play the moment when their minds and bodies transform."

(Interview with Deguchi Norio, April 4, 1995 at the John Manjirou pub near Shakespeare Theater's Kouenji Studio)

> Glossary item: 'cute' but physically inventive

> Mask 19. Transformation routines

> Bar 36. Hermia drags Lysander

 

Shingeki

By roughly the first (second?) decade of the century, Shingeki or "new theatre" arose as a style of theatre based on western naturalism, and characteristically developed in relation to the staging of classic naturalist western dramatic texts in translation. In spite of the fact that he is a pre-naturalist writer, Shakespeare became a commonplace of the classic Shingeki repertoire. From about the 1950's, the term "Shingeki" has tended to be associated with certain major theatre companies, such as the Bungaku-za, Haiyu-za and Seinen-za companies.

> Mask 26. Demetrius overacts

> Bar 29. Scared by an Ass

> Bar 45. Pyramus & Wall