A burst of energy and culture tumbles onto stage, in two stories of comedy and tragedy from Japanese theatre group Busu Theatre. They present a modern adaptation of Busu and The Damask Drum, a two-part work by Yukio Mishima. Where Busu asks us to leave behind any maturity we may have, The Damask Drum is similarly irreverent, but tells a ghost story of an old gardener.
First comes Busu, a comic farce, which sees two ridiculous friends shamefully left to attend an expensive antique shop. They are warned not to open "Busu", a black box which is left centre stage, otherwise death will be upon them. As their boss leaves, hilarity and chaos ensues – and as you can imagine, curiosity takes over.
The second play is a tragedy: the story of an elderly man and an unrequited love affair. “My love will make the damask drum thunder!” But a damask drum is a prop for dancing, it makes no sound – so when an old man sends a love letter to a beautiful young woman, he is ridiculed by receiving a damask drum in return.
With two very different plays in a short time slot, I was pleasantly surprised that nothing seemed rushed. Similarly, when I realised we were in for a pantomime-like comedy, the sheer stupidity of it all triggered an array of chuckles throughout the audience. Bright and eccentric, Busu is loud and lively, which is exactly what the story needs to engage its viewers. And although it took me longer to grasp The Damask Drum, it was every bit as entertaining; with traditional Awa dancing and live music, both stories were told very successfully.
The main issue is the language barrier. Whilst I believe I understood and enjoyed the stories, I can’t help but think there was some clarity lost through the use of untranslated and un-subtitled Japanese. The actors do speak English when expressing important phrases – enough to keep up with the action on stage – but sometimes I was left wishing I could follow more of the conversation. It's not a huge issue in the comical piece, because it is so nonsensical and simple that their movement spoke more than words, but in the story-rich The Damask Drum I would have liked a better understanding towards the end.
Overall, though, Busu and the Damask Drum is very entertaining to watch, and even if some of the plot was lost in translation I would recommend the show to those interested in exploring an unfamiliar performance style. The commitment and energy put into the show was what I can only describe as contagious; both entertaining and heartfelt, this performance is charming.