The Japanese theatre art kabuki began in the 1600s. ANU Za Kabuki hasn't been around nearly as long, but the Australian National University troupe, the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere, began in 1976. One of its aims was to perform Kabuki to Australian audiences, and this weekend it is doing just that.
In conjunction with the Embassy of Japan, ANU Za Kabuki will present three performances of their own translation of Old Timers, a 1951 comedy based on a 1921 short story by Mori Ogai. The play will be performed with live surtitles.
The president of the troupe, Peter Gravestock, a fourth-year ANU student studying international relations and Japanese, said kabuki was "highly stylised and exaggerated" and began with young women playing all the parts, male and female.
This was later changed to casts of young men. In Japan now, he said, older men play all the parts, and in recognition of this historical gender-bending, Old Timers will have men playing women and women playing men.
"We do it both ways," he said.
Old Timers has been directed by Shun Ikeda, a retired ANU lecturer in Japanese. In the play, which is set during the 1700s, Minobe Iori (played by Nehma Jagganath) is a samurai living in Edo (the old name for Tokyo) who is summoned to Kyoto, 300 kilometres away.
"He has to leave his wife and newborn son behind and go with a group of samurai - it's only supposed to be for a year," Gravestock said.
After Minobe arrives in Kyoto, he borrows some money from annoying fellow samurai Shimo Jima (Antigonie Bradshaw) to buy a new sword. But he doesn't invite Shimo to the subsequent celebration and Shimo angrily crashes the party, with severe consequences.
The entire membership of Za Kabuki - 31 people, some students of Japanese, others interested in Japanese culture - will be taking part in the production as actors or crew members. Some will be kuroko, the black-clad stagehands who move scenery and props onstage during the performance.
Takanori Mizuno will provide live musical accompaniment on the shamisen, a traditional Japanese guitar.
- Old Timers is on at Theatre 3, Ellery Crescent, Acton on Friday, October 11 and Saturday, October 12 at 6pm, and Sunday, October 13 at 1pm. Bookings: anuzakabuki.netlify.com