Fantastic Japanese play! Review of SRT’s Shun-kin

On the weekend I saw an incredible Complicite production of ‘Shun-Kin’, a Japanese play at The Esplanade Theatre and co-produced by The Singapore Rep Theatre.

It was an experience- 2hours long with no interval (!) but it was worth it.

A story of a high born lady who is blinded maliciously as a child, she becomes a famous shamisen master (a musical instrument) and forges a life long love affair with her servant Sasuke which is both touching and twisted.

There was no set whatsoever but lighting, video projection and sound were used to create modern day and 19th century Japan. It was a story within a story within a story following 3 characters: Shun-kin and Sasuke in 1829, the writer digging up her story in 1933 and the radio actress reading the narrative who is entangled in a secret affair.

Featuring a renowned cast (film actress Eri Fukatsu, celebrated actor Yoshi Oida and master shamisen player Hidetaro Honjoh) I was blown away by the acting. I’ve always been in awe of Japanese theatre, but the use of puppetry in this show was fantastic. Young Shun-kin is actually played by a life sized puppet and then as an adult seamlessly played by Eri Fukatsu who still retains the movements of a puppet until a thrilling scene when in a fit of rage, one of the actresses ‘manipulating’ her drops Shun-kin and becomes her…within seconds the other actors have dressed this new Shun-kin and the play continues.

Shu-kin and Sasuke

There was a lot of violence and the play climaxes with Shun-kin’s lover and lifelong servant blinding himself with a needle so he can never see her recently disfigured face.

Sasuke blinds himself with a needle

They live happily ever after.

Not really.

Its a dark story of self-sacrifice, selfishness and lust, told without sentimentality and its all the more powerful for it. Shun-kin and Sasuke have three children who they send away so that nothing gets in the way of their love but this is mentioned in passing in the same way cold way with which they abandoned them.

Shun-kin cuts a student who tried to force himself on her

It’s a production that will always stay with me: the haunting candlelight, the sad paper larks who are Shun-kin’s only real friends, and the few moments of bittersweet comedy all created by a truly talented cast of only 12 actors.

Video projection

Its part of the ‘Three Titans of Theatre’ trilogy hosted by Singapore Rep Theatre and I URGE you to book their next two shows – Yukio Ninagawa’s ‘Musashi’ about two legendary warriors, and Peter Brook’s ‘The Suit’ featuring a South African cast.

See below for links to SRT and to Sistic to book.

Exciting times for Singapore Theatre!



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