By comparison, Pacific Overtures feels culturally awkward and dated. I'm not persuaded this Stephen Sondheim musical - composed in the mid-1970s, with a book by John Weidman - merits an airing. The subject is definitely interesting, focusing on isolationist Japan in the 1850s when the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry's supposedly "friendly" US warships led to the Kanagawa Treaty, an influx of Westernising imperialists, and, in time, to Japanese expansionism. Unfortunately, the plot-line is bitty, the action often progressing at a snail's pace with little dramatic tension.

Sometimes the "alternative" storytelling is tiresomely whimsical, especially when all the lowly witnesses of the crucial Kanagawa meeting turn out to have overheard sweet Fanny Adams. Musically, Sondheim appears to have mastered Japanese harmonies with enthusiasm and he cleverly interweaves them with Occidental tunes. The serene melodies of the haiku-based duet, "Poems", is especially haunting, though some might prefer the rapidly rhyming British Admiral who is a boisterous pastiche of Gilbert and Sullivan's Modern Major General.

Gary Griffin's production also has a Zen-like simplicity about its bare wooden stage, reached by bridges. Unfortunately though, condescending Western attitudes are embedded in this show. Most of Griffin's male troupe (US and UK actors of various ethnic origins) offer lamentably half-baked imitations of the highly-skilled and stylised art of Kabuki.

Turning really Japanese? I don't think so.

  Bassett, Kate
The Independent on Sunday