Yamato: The Challengers review at Peacock Theatre, London – ‘exhilarating’

Yamato. Photo: Chris Randle Yamato. Photo: Chris Randle
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The drum has a perennial, primal power over humankind: it stirs the instincts for ritual, fighting, dancing, and probably mating. Even the most urbane 21st-century sophisticate, whose veins flow with frothy latte and whose thumbs are adept only at swiping screens, cannot fail to respond to the exhilarating sounds created by Yamato, the globe-trotting troupe of Japanese taiko drummers.

Tight and ferocious beats mellow into looser hushed rhythms. Deep and almighty accents are punctuated by the tinny, raindrop timbre of tiny cymbals. One of the drums is a whacking great thing, the size of a modest garden shed, the sound of which reverberates through your sternum and the plush upholstery of the theatre seats. The performers also exhibit an intense physicality – the whole production demonstrates the disciplined physical choreography of music-making as the ensemble squat, jump and gambol, their arms fluid and Medusa-like.

At one point, a quartet of brawny drummers straddle their instruments and lean backwards into abdomen-crunching empty space, rising up again to thunder out beats in virtuosic unison. There’s serious grimacing and shouting – it’s a macho and masochistic display. But the four female musicians also take centre stage, pounding their drums with equal attack. They also play the shamisen, an elegant-necked stringed instrument that’s plucked with a plectrum that looks a bit like a paint scraper. Something like shredding ensues.

Occasionally the show feels overstretched, and the resounding noise can develop a strangely soporific quality. Still, it’s leavened with audience participation games and percussive comic business.

The dance of drumming underpins this spectacular, intense and clownish taiko show