Christopher Walker reviews Pacific Overtures

Japan is an extraordinarily different country. In our multicultural contemporary world, it remains doggedly ‘unicultural.’

On my first trip to Tokyo, unlike every other city in Asia, I struggled to find anyone who spoke English.

Indeed on a trip to the leading department store I suddenly realised I was the only non-Japanese in the entire building.

What’s behind this? The long period of isolation imposed on the country during the iron rule of the Shogun from 1603 to 1853.

 Pacific Overtures 

No foreigner was permitted to even set foot on Japan’s sacred soil.

Sleeping Beauty was abruptly woken when an American expedition negotiated/forced a change of policy.

This is the fascinating background to one of Stephen Sondheim’s rarely performed works – Pacific Overtures.

Thanks to the ever innovative team at the Menier Chocolate Factory and their collaboration with Osaka’s Umeda Arts Theatre we are treated to a new production in Southwark.

It is an extraordinary piece. Sticking to the show’s original conception in the 70’s, it is a marriage between traditional Japanese Kabuki theatre, and the modern American musical.

 Pacific Overtures 

Look one way and it appears simplistic, almost caricatured. Look the other, and it is wonderfully nuanced and complex.

The set by Paul Farnsworth and costumes by Ayako Maeda are true to this artistic framework, and director Matthew White commands a largely Japanese cast, with some homegrown talent.

Of the latter, Jon Chew is perfect as the westernized Reciter, and Joaquin Pedro Valdes as Manjiro continues to go from strength to strength, and has a great voice.

Takuro Ohno looks every inch the Samuri he is meant to be, with Kanako Nakano as his subservient wife.

Saori Oda is quite wonderful as the Geisha Madame, doubling up as the Shogun himself, and Luoran Ding is poetically beautiful.

 Pacific Overtures 

There’s comedy thanks to Ethan le Phong, and Eu Jin Hwang has great fun as the Dutch Admiral and Sario Solomon camps it up as the French one.

Sondheim lovers should note there are very few numbers compared to his other pieces, and no show stoppers. But there’s plenty to provoke thought.


Picture: Eu Jin Hwang, Sario Solomon, Saori Oda, Rachel Jayne Picar, Luoran Ding, Masashi Fujimoto. Photo credits: Manuel Harlan.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Everyone at the South London Press thanks you for your continued support.

Former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing:


If you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can make a donation which will allow us to continue to bring stories to you, both in print and online. Or please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.