Returning to Shakespeare's Homeland

11th October 2002- Trying to make a stimulating play

A theatre that makes one feel spirit.

400 years ago in London with a population of 200,000 there was a theatre where everyday 3000 people would gather to enjoy the spectacle. That theatre was the Globe Theatre built on the south bank of the River Thames. It was here in that half roofed, circular, wooden built playhouse that Shakespeare gave life to numerous famous works.


However, this theatre was hated by the clergy and clerics as it was filthy and lawless, it encouraged people to skip work, it encouraged prostitution, and in 1644 it was closed.


In 1997 this magnetic theatre was recreated as the New Globe Theatre, and is now gaining attention from all around the world. The secret of its popularity is in the special atmosphere which makes one feel Shakespearefs very spirit, and also every year there are stimulating experimental plays being preformed.


14 picked from around the world

This summer I was picked as a member of a project connected with one of the Globe's experiments labelled "Savage Sensuality - A performance of Shakespearefs plays according to 14 performers gathered from around the world". The performance was a two hour play comprising of specially selected scenes on the theme of love from plays such as "Hamlet" and "Othello" and others.


Out of the 14, 11 were actors, one writer, one period specialist and one director. Also there were three body/voice/language specialists.


On the first day all 17 assembled in the practice studio. We all greeted each other. Collette, the famous comedic actress; Raul from the National Theatre; Nicolas, an active West End performerc.. All the actors I had seen on stage or screen. My happiness turned immediately into restlessness ? "would I be able to direct these people?" Nationalities were various: British, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealander. Everyone apart from me was brought up in an English speaking country, and all had been in contact with Shakespeare since childhood.


In a way I felt like the only foreigner mixed in a Japanese Kabuki troupe. I wanted to cry. But I couldn't turn back. It was the path I had chosen. There was no choice but to just do it.


A vicious schedule

The produced schedule was vicious, and on top of no days off, rehearsals were 12 hours long starting at 9am. Our lodgings were single rooms equipped with a bed, table and lamp, and on the first night I couldn't sleep for imagining what the following month would have in store.


The body and voice training that started the next morning was unique and it was based on an idea from renaissance times that "man is a miniature copy of space" and I forgot the joy and fear of discovery. The words of the voice specialist were especially striking. "This space is the womb of creativity. You will all be reborn here as actors!"


After rehearsals I was up till 2am preparing my directing notes. I suddenly wanted to see the Globe Theatre with no-one there. Having gained permission from the night guard, I opened the door and there on the stage was Peter from Canada practicing his lines. Whilst watching him in the dark, my strength welled up inside me.


Right, here we go!!


22nd November 2002-Grasping the importance of endurance.

Realising the sweetness of recognition

On the day of our performance London was met with an unprecedented storm. Apart from the Globe's stage and galleries the rest is roofless, and so the audience standing in the space in before the stage (known as the Yard) were all wearing raincoats. As for me, I had become one in that standing crowd but the storm in my heart had already passed. Whilst I was watching the actors' passionate performance, in the back of my mind the past month was spinning around like a kaleidoscope.


Before I came to London I had always wanted to create an enjoyable play with actors from around the world. But it took less than a day for me to realise how naive an idea that was. That's because the Globe Theatre is the battle ground for the serious fight that is the production of a play.


Once, when rehearsing "Othello" I said to an English actor about a certain performance "Surely, those words aren't directed just a Desdemona?" and his face stiffened at my sudden comment.


I swiftly explained that the words were meant for the wife, Desdemona, and also Othello himself. However, I felt that my conviction filled way of speaking had created a rather heavy and stifling atmosphere amongst the actors.


When rehearsing "Hamlet" I said to an actress "Make it more neutral!" She turned to me with a look of resistance in her eyes. I began to understand that the more and more I asked the actors to do the Shakespeare that I felt inside me, the more and more awkward communication between us became. I remember feeling isolated and starting to loose my confidence as a director.


Praise before commenting

One day I peeked a look at the body specialist's training. She first and foremost praised the actors. No matter how bad they were. Brilliant! Wonderful! Excellent!....She praised every actor in a different way and was always smiling. And than in mundane words she would point out the problem and encourage them to fix it. I asked her "Why are you so kind?" And in doing so she said with an admirable look "Nothing comes from scolding. Our job is to guide the actors to a state where our thoughts are finally well transmitted."


I decided to try it out straight away. From the next rehearsal I made the effort to praise before commenting. But it felt a little clinical and I felt embarrassed when saying it. An apprentice. My relationship with the actors remained unchanged but even if my vocalisations were awkward, once I started praising the actors, they softened up though maybe reluctantly.


Respecting the actors' performance

One evening I asked the director of the Globe for advice. He chose his words carefully. "This is want I think: because each of the actors' performances is born from their own sharp intuition and deep thoughts, we must primarily respect that. May it is best for a director to hold back his own thoughts as much as possible. Directing without trying to direct. That would probably stimulate the actors. Being a director requires endurance."


Whilst heartedly chewing over his words I realised that not directing was a lot harder than directing.


900 people came to see the show and it all ended successfully. However, when I was listening to the applause, as opposed to feeling the joy akin to a pole-vaulter increasing his personal best drastically, I conversely felt the pain of breaking several ribs on the landing on the other side.


Despite all this, the Globe Theatre is great!


12th August 2003-Adventure on the River Thames

A family of four on a narrow boat

The River Cam flows in front of our house and there are always some colourful narrow boats moored up.


Their names are interesting: Waterborne Gypsy; My Girl; Cutey Baby. One day I thought it might be nice to see England from a boat, and decided to attempt a family trip on the canals like I had heard from my friends, the Buckstones. Having prepared enough rations for four days we boarded Louise. The shape is that of a pleasure boat but equipped with kitchen, toilet and shower. The beds are narrower than on a caravan but they turn into a dining area. My wife and kids were overjoyed at the insides of this strange boat, but I was a little nervous knowing that I had to drive, look after the engine and navigate the locks (a system that changes the height of the water in the canal) single-handedly.


A boatman named Tim came along with us to the first lock and explained in his cockney accent "Look, ya do this, ya do tha', gran'ed it's a li'le 'ard. Go' any problems, just ask. Alwight?" and after jumping on to the bicycle we had brought along he was off like the wind.


A world apart from elegance

Wearing a life jacket as if was very cool my eldest daughter ran around inside the long, lanky boat; my second daughter was crying with her nose running; my wife was busy preparing dinner; and I was stuck at the oar at the helm of the boat. The putt putt putt of the engine was a little pitiable.


The elegant image of drinking wine down below was quite different from reality. This was the same as living but on water. Despite this we proceeded as if being pushed on by the smiles thrown at us by the strollers on the bank, and by the dazzling green of the banks, and by the waterfowl floating on the water's surface. We were doing four knots (walking speed apparently) and before I knew it there was another lock looming ahead.


However, just as we arrived a number of men popped up and helped with the lock as if it were second nature. One of them, a fisherman named Jeff, could tell straight away I was a complete novice, and said "Therefs quite a difference in the water level at the next lock so it's a bit dangerous. I'll come with you" and in an instant was on our boat. Jeff told me all sorts of things on the way.


Tasting kindness

He told me: the creator of the famous high-class pottery Wedgwood, took on the task of transporting his breakable goods by water rather than by the more riskier horse drawn carriage; the steam engine railroad came about thanks to the lid on a boiling pot of tea and because of that the canals fell into disuse; once horses used to pull the boats along from the banks; people who live on boats do have an address.


He also said "There still remains the taste of life made by those who were born and died on the canals." And I canft forget that he said to me smiling when we parted gDon't be in a hurry. You don't have to be going anywhere!"


I may have ripped the nail off my middle finger working the locks, but the trip allowed me to taste the kindness of the British. And probably the hardest thing to forget is on a midsummer night, the breathtaking beauty of a night sky filled with stars, which we looked upon as a family of four.


26th Sept 2003-A friend's words that filled me courage

A heart clouded by a simple doubt

This was because my work (which involved working with seasoned western actors who were well-grounded in these 17th Century English texts and creating a play in about a month to be shown to a London audience) was way over my head. The performance was a success. But I was broken. I began to be plagued by a simple doubt: "Can Japanese understand Shakespeare?"


At the point when I started to wonder whether I should continue with Shakespeare of give it up completely, I resolved myself by believing that despite the agonising summer, a new type of Shakespeare will come about. Suddenly I remembered the ashes of my late father buried on the banks of the River Thames. And so, on my father's birthday in December, for the first time in three months I nervously crossed the Millennium Bridge spanning the Thames and encroached upon the Globe Theatre. I looked up at this exceptionally small wooden Theatre. The huge doubt that had clouded my heart had not completely gone but I thought to myself strongly "I shall keep on creating!"


>From then on, on the one hand I studied Dante at Cambridge but I also began to look at all of Shakespeare's plays.


Unsatisfied with a Kurosawa film

One evening in August when I should have been making preparations to leave the UK, I had a drink with my friend of 10 years Jatinder Verma. He is an Asian director, and probably the most noticeable director from a non English speaking country.


That evening, the thing that he was interested in was the Shakespeare Company's seventh production "Hamlet" and just as we toasted he asked me with his sparkling eyes "Kazumi, tell me about your ideas for Hamlet."


Firstly I told him that there is a lot of Shakespeare in Japan, and a certain Kurosawa Akira was a man who resolutely tackled the problem of adaptation, and succeeded. I also told him that Kurosawa produced great works such as "Throne of Blood "from "Macbeth", "Ran" from "King Lear" but I felt somewhat unsatisfied with "The Bad Sleep Well" which was based on "Hamlet".


Having said this he pushed on by asking "So, what's Kazumi's troupe going to do with "Hamlet"?"


I told him that I was now beginning to realize that "Hamlet", which at a glance seems like a tragedy about one man's anguish, is in fact an endless political drama, and the situation in Japan (which has to suddenly accept this thing called the West) has to develop in a suitable way.


This was the very first time I had spoken about my ideas for adapting "Hamlet". And of course I wasn't confident, and I think I continued to talk, hesitating and clarifying with myself along the way.


Feelings into words for the first time

I was able to put my thoughts and feelings into words for the first time solely because Jatinder, who was grappling with his identity as an Asian whilst watching the extremely high-strung world of London theatre, was in front of me.


Face flushed, I finished somewhat unsteadily my narration and Jatinder said to me smiling "Kazumi, you've done it! It's there. I really want to see your Tohoku "Hamlet"!"


I felt so happy hearing him say that. And so that was the first time that the courage to attempt a new "Hamlet" with my Japanese friends welled up inside of me.