Yamato is a phenomenally successful troupe of 14 musicians, male and female, who hail from Japan’s Nara Prefecture, where the company was founded 25 years ago by Masa Ogawa, still their Artistic Director.
Their performances introduce us to a mind-boggling variety of Japanese drums, the most impressive of which is the gigantic miya-daiko, whose basso profondo reverberations hit you first in the sternum, before spreading through your entire body.
It’s an extraordinary sensation.
Yamato’s current show is aptly named Passion. A solemn beat on the miya-daiko gets the proceedings underway, followed by a gentle flute melody, as four performers carrying large paper lanterns make their way centre stage and start slowly circling a battery of smaller drums, placed below the raised brooding miya-daiko.
The atmosphere is eerie, ascetic, in a nod to Shinto religious ceremonies, where taiko drums continue to perform a key role throughout Japan.
The stillness doesn’t last long: the performers soon launch into an explosion of energetic, highly rhythmic drumming, that combines the sounds of their different instruments, ranging from the very big to smaller lace-headed drums, each with its own specific pitch.
Banging these drums requires skill, strength and agility, and Yamato make a full performance out of it. They commit their entire bodies to their drumming, their energy and apparent enjoyment totally contagious.
Their smiles are broad, their bright Japanese costumes in tones of red, white, gold and black flow to the rhythm of their bodies; and they regularly shout encouragement at each other.
Their fitness is superb, and you won’t be surprised to learn that they train ferociously, and start every day by running 10 kms.
More impressively still, this very accomplished visual spectacle is entirely devised by the performers themselves, from the layout of the instruments placed on various levels on the stage, through costumes, choreography and the highly effective and varied lighting.
Besides the drums, the show features other instruments, in particular the shamisen – a kind of long-necked guitar, the three strings of which are plucked with a big plectrum – and the small bronze cymbals called chappa.
Breaks between scenes involve audience participation by way of clapping, shouting and arm raising, orchestrated by the impish, mohawk-coiffed Masaya Futaki. That the public respond so eagerly appears to indicate that they’ve absorbed much of the energy that emanates from the performance and welcome the opportunity to release some of it.
In the second half, a display of the men’s naked torsos elicits yelps of uninhibited delight from the female section of the audience.
In short, Yamato’s Passion makes for a fabulous and unexpectedly varied night out. It will give you a dazzling perspective of the range of sound and mood drums are capable of, and it’ll send you home happy and energised. What else can you ask for?
|What||Yamato, Passion, Peacock Theatre Review|
|Where||Peacock Theatre, Portugal Street, London, WC2A 2HT | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Holborn (underground)|
12 Mar 19 – 31 Mar 19, 19:30 Sat 14:30 Sun 14:00 & 1800 (no perf Sun 17) Dur.: 2 hours inc one interval
|Price||£15-£38 (+ booking fee)|
|Website||Click here to book via Sadler's Wells website|