Land of the rising song


LAST NIGHT'S FIRST NIGHT: Pacific Overtures, Donmar Warehouse, London: Land of the rising song

MIGHTY America is about to invade a small defenceless country to impose its will and exploit the bountiful local resources.

Soon Britain is in on the imperial act. Sound familiar?

Well, evidently, history repeats itself. As Stephen Sondheim's musical reminds us, those nice people from Washington and London were at it in 1853 when they ganged up on Japan. On a completely bare pinewood stage a fine troupe of players act out this cultural cataclysm with such skill that the production remains highly accessible.

This is a triumph for Sondheim's stunningly clever lyrics.

This co-production between the Donmar and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater is performed with enthusiasm by a cast from both sides of the Atlantic.

Special mention should go to narrator Joseph Anthony Foranda.

The story is told from the Japanese point of view, with the invaders being parodied in caricature form.

But while Japan's traditionalists lament the passing of their ways, their sage Emperor advises: "We must appease the Westerners until we have learned the secrets of their power and their success." They did just that.

And in a world of Sony and Seiko it's clear that domination is achieved by business not armies. A musical that makes you think about such matters is a rare thing - but worth the effort.

  Jul 1 2003
Kevin O'Sullivan
Daily Mirror