Brilliant fusions are changing the British stage.


Pacific Overtures doesn't so much fuse Eastern and Western attitudes as layer them. Stephen Sondheim's 1976 musical - tracing the history of Japan's economic colonisation, through the figures of a Samurai and a fisherman - throws up a lot of tinkling ironies, wry twists, deft defeatings of expectation. Both plot and music - percussive plinkings overlaid with urgent rhythmic bursts - frequently present themselves as parody Oriental and parody Sondheim.

Gary Griffin's Kabuki-style, all-male production, first seen in Chicago, looks impressive: an austere wooden platform; a cast in black tunics; a single stream of red ribbon unfurling down a body to indicate a suicide. Mo Zainal, flower behind ear, appears charmingly as a succession of young women. As a snake-like poisoner, Jerome Pradone uncoils Sondheim's rhymes adroitly. There is a lot of squawking, slow walking and secretive smiling.

The stereotypes may be in heavy quotation marks, but to what purpose? The anti-imperialism of the piece is sympathetic but routine, despite a lumbering attempt to update it by reference to 9/11. It's an ingenious apparatus rather than a penetrating piece of drama; intricate rather than complex.

  Susannah Clapp
Sunday July 6, 2003
The Observer