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‘King Lear’ as an Experimental Musical: the Japanese Production of ‘Ria O’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2003


The avant-garde Japanese company Ban'yu Inryoku was formed following the death in 1983 of the inspirational writer and director Shuji Terayama, who has subsequently become a cult figure. This article explores his influence – both limiting and liberating – on the production by one of the founders of the company, his disciple J. A. Seazer, of an experimental musical version of King Lear, as Ria O. Douglas Kerr places the production – seen in England during the Japan Festival of 1991 – within the context of evolving attitudes towards the avant-garde theatrical movement in Japan during the late 'sixties, notably as modified by the national trauma of the gas attack in Tokyo of 1995. Adapting Shakespeare was a break with the Terayama tradition of presenting only works collectively created by the ensemble – and it also made their work more accessible to the intercultural festival circuit. Explicated by the printed synopsis which forms a ‘map’ of the play for its audiences, the production also used Brechtian signboards to signal the titles of scenes, while being predicated also on the ‘representation of the inner and the outer experience’ which was Artaud's perception of Balinese performance. Lear himself was in this sense the entranced dancer, depending on the guidance of his supporters. Douglas Kerr, who explores here the tensions between the cultural elements employed and between the ideological pulls for conservatism and for social change, is currently an advanced PhD student at Stanford University in American Literature. His interests include Performance Poetics and Buddhism in contemporary American poetry.

Research Article
© 2002 Cambridge University Press

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