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Usagi Yojimbo

Miyamoto Usagi is a samurai, the greatest in the land – well, he’s not yet but after this coming of age tale, I think we can be pretty sure he will be. He’s also a rabbit, his sensei is a lion and his master is a tiger.

Welcome to the world of Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, an internationally loved graphic novel that’s been vibrantly turned into a stage show by Amy Draper and Stewart Melton. This is a superb alternative to the usual festive family fair.

Melton’s neat adaptation leaves plenty of space for Draper and her production team to bring a pen-and-ink narrative swirling into paw-pounding life. Ele Slade’s minimalistic set provides a great backdrop for Nina Dunn’s delicate line-drawing projections, that in turn evoke the lively spirit of Sakai’s original anime style. Ele’s animal headdresses, beautifully made by Chrissie Sterritt, are stunning.

The anthropomorphic characters are brought to life elegantly and energetically by a fluid ensemble. The production pays homage to Sakai’s famed attention to detail in the specific way each animal moves. Joji Hirota’s soundtrack, performed live by a compelling Hirota, supports the hurtling action while bringing a haunting authenticity to this Japanese story of otherworldly mythology and magic.

Verdict: Stan Sakai’s rabbit samurai is brought vividly to life in this elegant and exciting stage adaptation

Honour Bayes

  • Southwark Playhouse, London
  • November 28-January 4, PN December 3
  • Authors: Stan Sakai, Stewart Melton adaptation
  • Director: Amy Draper
  • Design: Ele Slade set, Nina Dunn projection, Joshua Pharo lighting, Max Pappenheim sound
  • Technical: Richard Seary production manager, Chrissie Sterritt wig and headdress maker, Kitty Power costume maker, Lee Elston production assistant, Rhian Kennedy stage manager, Lizzy Gethings deputy stage manager
  • Cast: Joji Hirota, Amy Ip, Haruka Kuroda, Siu Hun Li, Jonathan Raggett, Dai Tabuchi
  • Producer: Southwark Playhouse
  • Running time: 1hr 40mins
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Honour Bayes is a freelance arts journalist who has written extensively for The Stage and had work published in the Guardian, Independent, Time Out, Exeunt Magazine and The Church Times. She is currently Associate Editor on Chinese arts magazine ArtZip and has worked as web editor for the Royal College of Art, managing its arts and design coverage.
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