Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Review: 'Yamato: The Drummers of Japan' at the Peacock Theatre, 12th March 2018

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars 

Ah, the simple pleasures of a guy beating the living shit out of an enormous drum. It's a sight, sound and sensation that awakens something primal within you: the pounding bass beat reverberating throughout the theatre; a thud you hear with your whole body rather than just your ears; an insistent rhythm that makes you want to dance around a fire smeared in paint chanting mad nonsense as you prepare to hunt the great totem bear and...

Wait, where was I?

Ah yes, central London, 2019, in the Peacock Theatre watching an excellent Japanese drum troupe performing their awesome new show. They are Yamato and their new show is Passion, the latest in a long series of touring shows in this country in which they showcase their enormous percussion instruments and their insane levels of skill.

The night consists of a series of pieces that range from comedy skits with elements of clowning in which the performers battle one another from drum supremacy, bits of audience participation where we clap and cheer along with the music and, my favorite, when the whole troupe is on stage performing as one and creating the most wonderful racket.

I really want to emphasise how *loud* Yamato is. On entering we're provided with earplugs and signs in the lobby warn us that this show is going to crank up the volume. During the show I glanced around to notice that the majority of people had theirs in. I tried my best to tough it out, but there came a moment where I had to admit defeat and put them in. Even with earplugs it's a thunderous cacophony, a series of booms that you can palpably feel shaking your hairdo and wobbling your larynx.

One notable aspect of Passion I realised midway through the show is a lack of technology. While there are one or two amplified instruments used in the show, the vast majority of the sound emanates from the drums themselves rather than through a sound system. The fact that taiko drums have been around since about the 6th century in Japan means that the show we're watching could have been devised and performed at any point within the last millennia and a half.

As it is next to impossible not to get sucked into these precise, primal and overpowering rhythms, you sense that you're feeling the same thrill as any human who has experienced a show like this over the years - creating a rare continuity of feeling across the centuries. For example, I have absolutely nothing in common with a 12th-century Japanese peasant - but I do know what she would have felt in her gut when someone struck a giant drum.

So yeah, I enjoyed Passion. I had been worried that two hours of just drumming would get a bit repetitive, but the variations in tone and style kept me engaged right the way through. My only minor criticism is that some of the comedy bits go on a bit, but given that they hide a change of scenery and a rearrangement the drums it's easy to forgive.

A wholehearted recommendation, but bring earplugs!

Yamato: The Drummers of Japan is at the Peacock Theatre until 31 March. Tickets here.

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