Jane Eyre (musical) at Hakata-za (Japanese version)
Review by Matt Perkins, (Nov. 2012)
Any fan of Jane Eyre, or of musical theatre, will enjoy this faithful, never overblown adaptation of the classic novel. The slow pace might frustrate you if you’re not familiar with the story or fail to be won over by its big catchy songs. Yet if nothing else, it’s a great opportunity to see one of Japan’s most talented actresses, in a bizarre twist, playing one of English Literature’s most famous heroines.
The economic but striking design rarely failed to impress. The gothic mood was established with a scattering of gravestones across the set and one or two dry trees. The backdrop depicted an overcast sky canopied over with dense English woods and gave the set an impressive depth. The lighting effects were stunning. Beautiful, eerie shadows licked up the wooden panels in Thornfield Hall. The miserable boarding school was lit by silhouettes of high barred windows. Candles and gas-lights were carried by an eerie chorus of dusty butlers and maids in Victorian dress.
The minimal no-nonsense design was fitting with the controlled pace of the show. Jane Eyre has very few bells and whistles and is, for a non-Japanese speaker, all the more easy to follow for it. The score is clever with great sing-able hooks (or hum-able depending on your Japanese). It pulls the age-old trick of having the best songs weave in and out of each other. You feel that comfortable sense of recognition when you hear the opening few bars of a tune you’ve heard half an hour before.
While the musical is saccharin at times (what musical isn’t?) the show manages to carry the same bleak message as the novel. Other women are left lonely, go mad or die to allow the heroine to finish in the spotlight, centre stage. If Jane Eyre is a proto-feminist novel then the musical gives more than a nod to its importance. Jane’s song about Rochester’s showy gift of family jewels, even though it was sung in Japanese, made it pretty clear as to where he should shove them. Women’s voices were given more stage time than in many popular musicals. Duets between the young and older Jane were well weaved together. Fans of the book will enjoy the musically inventive ways relationships between characters are drawn out. Even with limited Japanese, one early scene between Jane Eyre and her dying friend, as they clasp each other in a filthy dormitory bed was surprisingly tear jerking. The decision to cast Takako Matsu is intriguing considering her previous work. She stars in one of her best-known films, Confessions (2010), as an icy teacher with diabolically creative plans for vengeance on her students (poisoning their milk with a terrible virus). Although this sounds a long way from Jane Eyre, its hard to watch the prim governess of Thornfield estate without feeling that the character chimes in some ways with Takako Matsu’s chilling portrayal of a grieving mother in Confessions: that there’s something dangerous in ignoring stories, unspoken or unsung.
It is worth noting that, for non-native speakers, while the Japanese may put you off attending the show, the story is fairly simple to follow, though you may miss the twists and turns if you haven’t read the book. I was very grateful for the melodrama. Major plot points are marked with a drum roll, a song, a framed kiss, an obvious change in scene so that even if you haven’t read the novel, it will be hard to feel lost. The thunderstorm marriage proposal was deeply silly but carried out with gusto. There was a fantastic thunderclap when Jane finally says, ‘Hai, kekon o shimasu’ (effectively, ‘I will’).
In many ways, Jane Eyre is a traditional, fairly conservative musical. Yet it is surprisingly stirring, in spite of its modesty, with a healthy nod to the seriousness of Bronte’s novel and even some of its most radical ideas.
Jane Eyre at Hakata-za
• 11/2 (Fri.)~11/18 (Sun.)
• Monday: Closed / Tue~Friday: 13:00 / Wednesday: 13:00 and 18:00 / Saturday: 12:00 and 17:00 / Sunday: 12:00
• Hakata-za Theatre
• A: ¥14,000/ Superior B: ¥11,000/ B: ¥8,000/ C: ¥5,000/ D: ¥10,000
• 2-1-Shimokawabatamachi, Hakata-ku
• Tickets: http://hakataza.e-tix.jp/pc/hakataza.html
For more information in English: event listing here.
I studied English Language and Literature at Oxford University and am currently studying Japanese at the Japan University of Economics in Fukuoka. I enjoy writing, directing and watching plays, theatre and dance. I am interested in learning more about Japan’s performing arts. As it can be tricky, especially with elementary Japanese, to track down the best shows I started this guide as a way to help English speakers stay up to date with what’s on. Keep checking the Fukuoka Now blog for up to date information about the performing arts in Fukuoka.