By Danielle Farrow
Japanese theatre company Akagumi presents this tale based on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor – a comedy that sees a fat knight attempting to woo two wives in order to gain money. The wives are not overly thrilled by his attentions and set about playing tricks on him and making sure he suffers for his presumption. There is also a jealous husband and a daughter with her own suitors.
In this production, the ’dirty old man’ (described as such by Japanese spirits that translate plot points) is a Samuari and the wives appear to both be those of the master – though this may not be the case. Therein lies the main problem with this production for anyone who does not understand Japanese / the specific dialect of Osaka.
The spirits, while helping to interpret the play, are not always clear in speech and the surtitles are not legible. For those who do not understand the language of this speech-heavy play, this is truly unfortunate, and while strong physical performance, particularly comedy, can overcome language barriers, this is also in short supply. Much of the physical comedy comes in pratfalls, and there are any number of missed opportunities in the pursuit of the would-be suitor by the husband.
That said, the husband’s changes of expression are very clear and beautifully played, combining bold performance with believability. The spirits can be entertaining, when their phrases are not too repetitious and trying to say how great the performance is. The wives seem to be engaged well with what they are saying, but this of course suffers for want of language.
Even if you are familiar with The Merry Wives of Windsor, the daughter’s romance is not very clear, and without such prior knowledge – where seeing the parallels becomes part of any interest to be found in the piece – the colourful and imaginative use of fabrics, and traditional garb for costume, is not enough to hold attention.
If the Merry Wives of Osaka could acquire surtitles that could actually be read, this production may well be a good one, though the opportunities missed for really strong physical comedy would still be a lack. Without such a translation, there is not enough visually to really entertain.