Ravens, We Shall Load Bullets

Ravens, We Shall Load Bullets | Yukio Ninagawa

November 2014 | Kwai Tsing Theatre

My review for Ravens, We Shall Load Bullets will be fairly brief, because I have only one criticism to offer: the theatre was nowhere near full. There has clearly been some failure in marketing or education, because this is best piece of international work I have seen here so far, and it is so perfectly relevant to Hong Kong right now that it deserves to be sold out. It seems that in spite of Hong Kong’s relative proximity to Japan, Ninagawa isn’t as famous here as in Europe.

This is an ensemble piece, most of which is performed by members of the Saitama Gold Theatre, whose average age according to the programme is 75.7 (yes, really.) These performers train five days a week with Ninagawa, and their physical and vocal delivery is incredibly powerful. If these were young actors playing old women, doubtless they would be hunched over with cracked voices, working hard to appear old. As it is, the actors have no need to imitate the age of the characters, so they are free to play them with energy and dexterity, jumping onto tables without hesitation. Ritsuko Tamura is very compelling as Raven Granny; Miwako Ohgushi as Bald Granny is hilarious, delivering all of her lines with perfect rhythm and grounded physical expression. Hiromu Kasai as the defence lawyer spends most of the performance in his briefs, and does it with great energy and humour.

“I feel elated to be here again in Hong Kong.  How can theatre unfold the existential conditions of a variegated, disorderly, yet colourful, charming and vibrant city? And how can I get the message across to the audience?  These are the issues that I have to explore.” – Yukio Ninagawa’s notes in the house programme

The ensemble directing is really beautifully done – the large cast never gets in the way and always supports the action in every detail, both physically and vocally. Shimizu’s play is as relevant as ever (it was originally performed in 1971), and his take on rebellion and the disempowered fits modern Hong Kong without any need for adaptation.

There are some really shocking kabuki-like coups de théâtre that I don’t want to spoil by discussing. The ending is completely unexpected and more emotionally powerful than I can describe – just go and see it.

About Ivor Houlker

Ivor runs Rooftop Productions in Hong Kong, a theatre company known for multidisciplinary contemporary work. He trained as an actor at Rose Bruford College, and completed his MA in performance at Goldsmiths College, London.

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