Japanese Taiko Drumming in London – Yamato:
Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve probably all heard Japanese taiko drumming. It’s that massive hollow drum sound used in fantasy film soundtracks when the ‘final battle’ is about to commence. Of course in the movies, the drums have actually been played by orchestral percussionists called Wendy or Peter in a recording studio in Hampstead rather than a battery of flying elves with pointy ears… How much more exciting to be invited to review the real deal, the world famous taiko drumming troupe Yamato from Asuka in Japan (at The Peacock running until Sunday 31 March 2019) performing their newest work entitled Passion. The barrel-shaped drums, weighing in at over half a tonne each, are traditionally used in Shinto (the major Japanese religion) rituals. They make a huge thunderous sound but I’m just a bit concerned about how a drumming show will keep an audience interested over a whole evening.
Yamato is fronted by artistic director Masa Ogawa with Passion being created in 2018. The company was formed 25 years ago and they have played over 3780 shows in 54 countries across the globe to 7 million people – that’s a lot!
The 12-strong group take to the stage with an earth-shattering opening number entitled Netsujoh which apparently refers to ‘the spirit that burns hot inside our body like a flame’. With the stage bathed in a fiery red light and dotted with paper lanterns, the musicians strike dramatic poses whilst trading cross-rhythms and building the music to a heart-stopping climax using their own hand-crafted ‘bachi’ drum sticks. The second piece Ishikure is all about the intention of a piece of rock…no I don’t understand it either but with the outfit fronted by four ‘rock’ god musicians playing Shamisens ( a Japanese plucked string instrument with a distinctive twang) as if they were cosplaying REO Speedwagon what’s not to like. Another number features an ethereal young woman creating haunting melodies on a bamboo flute who then takes a turn at singing ethereal melodies. It was at this point that I realised that the Yamato show was going to be a lot of fun and that I shouldn’t have worried about being bored!I was hugely impressed with the physicality of the show and if you like lean muscular bodies with your paradiddles then you are in for a treat. The drums are thrown around with abandon and at times the stage resembles a musical gym with the artists doing situps as they play. Other highlights of the show for me were a tune called Rekka which featured some terrific physical comedy and lots of audience participation; and then there was Yamato’s signature piece entitled Rakuda which was something to do with a ‘slightly foolish impression of a camel’…anyway the pounding of huge drums set the sonic backdrop whilst two-headed drums were played in unison, the drummers cross-sticking over the drum’s two heads via an overhand grip in an incredible virtuosic display. A piece entitled Garakuta featured wonderful interplay between the musicians playing ‘chappa’ cymbals as the competed for supremacy over each other like breakdancers at a competition. And then there was a hilarious audience participation encore…but I’m not going to give that away. From the rapturous audience response, it’s clear that the Yamato troupe has a lot of hardcore fans who love the show and come and see them every year and now I understand why. The show has amazing stagecraft, a high energy level and features amazingly synchronised feats of musical brilliance which deserved the several standing ovations that the company received. There are half-price tickets available for the under 16s and this would be a great show for youngsters but really it’s for all the family. Catch it while you can!
The Peacock Theatre
London WC2A 2HT.
Tuesday 12 – Sunday 31 March 2019
Performances: Tue – Sat at 7:30pm, Sat at 2:30pm, Sun at 2pm & 6pm
Tickets: £15 – £38
Ticket Office: 020 7863 8222 or www.peacocktheatre.com
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