Swords and cross-dressers at ANU Kabuki

4 September 2014

A tale of revenge, a stolen sword, and boys who play girls who play boys. It’s Za Kabuki time.

The world’s largest and longest-running Kabuki troupe outside of Japan will take the stage at The Australian National University on September 6 and 7 for two performances of classical Japanese dance and drama.

Founded in 1976, the troupe is made up of ANU students from various nationalities and backgrounds, most of whom are studying Japanese language and culture.

In its 37th performance, the ANU Za Kabuki troupe will perform Sukeroku - Kabuki Mulan, or ‘Sukeroku and the cherry blossoms of Edo’. One of the most popular Kabuki plays, it tells the tale of a young man, Sukeroku, who seeks revenge for his father’s murder.

Producer and Master of Asia Pacific Studies graduate Naomi Holm says Sukeroku attempts to solve the bloody mystery and track down the killer by pulling no punches.

“He seeks his father’s killer by provoking fights with other men and samurai, to try and get them to draw their swords,” says Naomi.

“Maybe he finds the killer, maybe he doesn’t. To find out, you’ll have to come and watch.”

A feature of the performances are the lavish period customs and mountains of makeup. They are made even more interesting by who is wearing them.

In traditional Kabuki only males can perform. But in a modern twist, ANU Za Kabuki performances see females play and dress up as male characters, with men acting as women.

The ANU troupe also adds another variation to their performances.

“A lot of our audience aren’t Japanese speakers, so to ensure they enjoy the play as well, we not only perform in Japanese but it’s also in English. We also try to incorporate a lot of Australian jokes,” says Naomi.

More: Information about this performances is available from the Za Kabuki website, with tickets available here.