Wednesday, 21 February 2001

Miss Tanaka, Feb 21, 2001

Miss Tanaka by John Romeril 
Playbox Theatre
at Merlin Theatre, Feb 21 until March 10, 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

John Romeril's new play, Miss Tanaka is charming, witty and pretty. It is, in myriad ways, a mixed-media production. Not only does it integrate puppetry, video, original composition and choreography, it has strong inter-cultural themes.

David Bell , Artistic Director of Handspan Theatre, worked with John Romeril on developing this script from a Xavier Herbert short story from 1997.

Mott, a young Englishman, played with style and charm by Jeremy Stanford, arrives in Broome in North West Australia in 1939 just as the war with Japan begins. He takes over his father's pearling company which, of course, employs many Japanese as pearl divers.

The story is simple. Mott is bemused by the rough and ready behaviour of the locals. He is met by a young Japanese-Torres Strait Islander, Kazuhiko (Bradley Byquar) whose father, Mr Tanaka (Tam Phan) is a swindling but lovable rogue who runs cock fights and Sumo wrestling.

Tanaka compels his son, Kazuhiko, to dress as a naive Japanese girl,  the Miss Tanaka of the title. His two betting friends, Hanif ( Tony Yap) and Sakamoto ( Yumi Umiumare) offer dowries of pearls for her hand in marriage. This beauty in drag also catches the eye and the heart of young Mr Mott.

As Mott, Stanford is a warm and magnetic presence on stage. He does a delightful crowd-pleasing Fred Astaire song and dance routine to Things are Looking Up.

The design by Greg Clarke is a broad white stage lit by David Walters. The design is projected onto the white screens with images, slides and shadow puppetry. The entire bar-room opium and card-game sequence is played in stylish video footage with a peppy 1930s atmosphere.

Yap and Umiumare create a clever comic double act and their dance skills are exploited effectively by choreographer, Andris Toppe . Live drummers, Junko and Toshi Sakamoto, provide live performance of Darrin Verhagen's percussive music.

Puppeteers, Heather Monk and Megan Cameron, manipulate Rob Matson's hilarious and provocative puppets with great skill and impact.

This is a sweet show that leaves one smiling. It does not challenge major issues but it looks beautiful, is wittily written and technically ambitious .

By Kate Herbert

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