Friday, 5 December 2014

PREVIEW Usagi Yojimbo at the Southwark Playhouse

BRINGING the stories from the pages of a Japanese comic book to the stage has been the inspired choice of Christmas production for the Southwark Playhouse.
Usagi Yojimbo is the story of Usagi, a young rabbit who yearns to become a famous samurai like his late father.
The show is based on the award-winning comic book by Stan Sakai and has been adapted for the stage for the first time by Stewart Melton.
"The theatre has been going for 21 years and we try to do something a bit different at Christmas time," says Southwark Playhouse artistic director Chris Smyrnios.
"We don't really do panto and when we do traditional we do it with a twist. So we were keen to carry on that theme this year.
"I was looking through some old comics I used to read and I came across Usagi Yojimbo. As I read it I realised it had all the ingredients that everyone would want for a family show.
"It's not Christmassy per se but it's got a bit of everything in it - animals, action, adventure and a strong moral code - I felt it was the perfect choice.
"The comic has also just celebrated its 30th anniversary and we thought it would be a great thing to do so once we had been given permission to adapt it we set about developing it and creating a story that would appeal to children."
The show is set in 17th century Japan in a world of bandit raccoons, feline ninjas and warring animal clans.
After an argument with his mother the young rabbit Usagi leaves his home, family and friends behind him to train with an old lion sensei, a teacher of the warrior’s code known as Bushido.
However initially, his adventure isn't quite what he thought it would be and eventually he learns what really makes a samurai swordsman.
"It's all about the young rabbit who under the guidance of an eccentric old lion learns about honour and learns responsibility in his quest to become a samurai," says Chris.
"It's very exciting partly because it's such a great story with lots of comedy and pathos, but also because there is plenty of live action.
"It features sword fights as well as some amazing costumes including wigs that turn into ears."
Along with a cast of five, all but one of whom have more than one role, it features a set made out of bamboo, video projection and original live music.
"The projection is fantastic because it is a way of illustrating the story that makes it feels as though you are stepping into the pages of the comic," says Chris.
"It also creates different atmospheres and there are some beautiful pictures which are projected both onto the stage but also the backdrop."
He adds that the show has not been without its challenges but says the result has been worth it.
"It's been a fantastic experience for us," he says. "The challenge was to remain faithful to the the original comic as well as to portray a young boy who gets older as the play progresses.
"We also needed to make him recognisable to those who know him from the comics but interesting for the whole audience.
"I think the team has done a great job and I really believe we have created something really quite special."

USAGI YOJIMBO is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until Sunday, January 4.

Tickets cost £18 or £16 concessions. Visit or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

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