Next February, the curtain will rise on a stage adaptation of Back to the Future. The project has been cast, a score composed and everything is ready to go, but I ask myself: why?
Of all the many fads that I have witnessed in my 75 years on this planet, nothing has come close to sheer, unadulterated daftness than the current rush to turn every cinematic success into a stage production. While other avid theatregoers may roll their eyes at the prospect of more film-to-stage adaptations, many will remain silent for professional reasons – who would turn down the role of Marty McFly or Doc Brown in this show?
Having no such connections, I can state what I believe many are thinking: that there is nothing to gain from this situation. Hollywood’s production values would make any theatrical producer’s eyes water. Andrew Lloyd Webber might moan about the soaring costs of putting on a show but his budgets pale in comparison to those of a film producer.
Turning a stage show into a film has endless possibilities: bigger stars, location shooting, close-ups for intimacy, panoramic shots for spectacle, CGI for grandeur and the ability to edit the end result. Having just watched the gruelling film Touching the Void, I can hardly believe this mountain-climbing story is also being staged. This surely demonstrates a lack of imagination.
It is easy to ridicule the current state of the cinema with its endless remakes, prequels and sequels, but Broadway and the West End are no better, looking to Hollywood for inspiration.
Ticket prices keep rising, but originality keeps falling. Going to see a show has lost its glamour and excitement because patrons have seen it all before – preceded by a lion, a star-covered mountain or a mouse. Is this really the best that this mediocre century has to offer?
If people are going to accuse others of cultural appropriation, it is their responsibility to understand the cultural context in which those comments are made, especially when it comes to Japan.
Japan has long assimilated non-Japanese things and has a recognised expertise in adapting and mutating them into Japanese products.
Silk cultivation was imported from China around 300 AD. When Japan invaded Korea in the late 16th century, 50,000 to 200,000 Korean artisans, blacksmiths and farmers were brought back to Japan, which had a huge influence on ‘Japanese’ pottery and ceramics.
‘Dutch learning’ (rangaku), which began in 1640, assimilated Dutch knowledge via the trading post at Dejima island. Without it, much of Japan’s early scientific knowledge would have been non-existent. Another result of Japan’s love affair with the Dutch is Huis Ten Bosch (in Nagasaki Prefecture), which recreates an entire Dutch town.
Words from many western languages, including Dutch, Portuguese, French and German as well as English have been brought into the Japanese language.
The Greek-Irish writer Lafcadio Hearn, who assimilated into Japanese culture, pointed out that after Japan ended its policy of national isolation, it employed ‘foreign machines’ to teach the Japanese about Western thinking, culture, engineering and sciences. The Japanese were quick to adopt Western forms of dress, which might, ironically, have been interpreted as cultural appropriation by today’s standards.
The Japanese sell dressing up in traditional costume to visitors as part of their tourism infrastructure. In Kyoto, many tourists can been seen dressed as maiko (trainee geisha) and in many cities there are salons where anyone can try on a samurai or ninja costume.
Some of the best whisky is made in Japan and sold at high prices – and bourbon brands including Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark are now owned by Japanese companies. Equally, burgers and Western-style clothing is made in Japan.
Many of Studio Ghibli’s films incorporate depictions of European locations, such as Visby in Sweden for Kiki’s Delivery Service or Sitges in Spain for the film adaptation of the manga comic Jo Jo’s Bizarre Adventure.
As a regular visitor to Japan for 30 years, I’ve taught myself Japanese, translating articles and books as wells as writing about Japan for a number of institutions. I also made a documentary about the Meiji-Taisho-Showa era Kabuki actor Ichimura Uzaemon XV.
I also dressed up as an Italian when I was in the children’s chorus at the Royal Opera House – did that make me or the production racist?
I find it infuriating when non-Japanese take a leaf out of the Japanese book of assimilation and then get trolled by people who don’t know what they are talking about.
Richard Howle’s article about box office staff was thought-provoking and enlightening.
I’ve never had a cross word with a ticketing person, and have always seen them as professionals doing a job – not making the rules, but applying them. I have no problem with booking fees either, but train fares are another story.
In his review of Caryl Churchill’s Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp, David Benedict writes: “The sheer audacity of the plays is exhilaratingly fresh. That they come from an 81-year-old dramatist is extraordinary.” One can only hope that David will find his best days are yet to come.
Otley, West Yorkshire
“As an artist, I found there was this ceiling that you’d be given as a woman of colour. [You’d get] opportunities in studio spaces but you’d never get your hands on lots of people or bigger spaces. Those were kind of guarded by very few, usually white men called Alan or David. If we want diversity throughout, not just at grassroots, I think regional theatres and places like Stratford East are really important in getting your first show of scale or assisting.” – Theatre Royal Stratford East artistic director Nadia Fall, Speaking at the Theatres Trust conference
“So I never set out to write a play that makes audiences faint, but that’s what happened in our first preview last night. All credit to the cast for some powerful acting.” – Playwright Sarah Rutherford (Twitter)
“Hopefully there’s one audience member who feels changed in a profound way [by a play], but it’s a much longer process. Sometimes we look for immediate change, and that feels false, inauthentic and knee-jerk. I think there’s an arrogance that suggests that theatre can change the world.” – Playwright Alice Birch (i)
“There’s a core of self-doubt… I’ve always said the title of my autobiography – which is a joke, I would never do one – would be Three Stars in the Guardian.” – Director Marianne Elliott (Telegraph)
“Practice makes perfect, they say. Nobody practised more than I did. There’s a whole stream of musicians who don’t practise, don’t need to practise. I needed to practise. And I can tell you one thing – practice does not make perfect. It makes you a bit better.” – Composer Harrison Birtwistle (Sunday Times)
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