Yesterday – the day of the B-March I went up to Holborn to the Peacock Theatre to see a performance of Yamato – Japanese Drummers. Years ago, I saw the Kodo Drummers in a small theatre somewhere in London – don’t know where – but I remember the hairs on the back of my neck standing perpendicular.

Yesterday’s performance was different. Less serious (much less serious), more flamboyant, but as loud. The theatre is small, actually almost too small – my knees were firmly against the seat in front of me and the occupant of that seat was just a touch too tall – but that was of no matter. The auditorium was filled with adults and a very good proportion of children. It started (relatively gently) – and then grew into a series of mini enactments.

The group are made up of 12 members – of which a quarter are female. They seem to do everything their male counterparts did, including playing all the large drums. The only aspect they didn’t do was when the dancers/performers stripped down to their waist in one story to play the largest drums. The one thing that comes across is that the troupe really enjoy playing together – there’s a sense of understanding and fun.

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There were drums (a bit of an understatement), small, medium, large and extra-large. The sounds varied between a staccato noise, almost high pitched to a resonating boom. The musicians played with one another. One started a sequence with a small drum and encouraged the audience to clap. We did. He made another, we clapped again, and then another musician crept from the side and brought out different drum and played it over the first. He tried to gather it all together again only to go off in a huff and bring out a third. They tried to outdo each other, each getting larger and larger instruments till at last they burst into playing all the drums together in a wild frenzy – with our first performer using all the drums, and pushing the other team to one side to ‘win’. A little while later two of them played tennis with little cymbals. Tossing the imaginary ball between them and catching it again between them – one even served a ball to the other and then a little later threw it and the other made to catch it – when a third musician leapt between them to snatch it ringing out of the air. They played together and then would go back to the serious stuff. Near the end they sat the edge of a platform, facing away from the audience, their drums (large) between their knees. They dropped their cloaks from their shoulders and lent back over the edge of their platform – faces to the ceiling, pulled themselves up to the drums and started a phenomenal sequence. When sitting upright you could clearly see the muscle formations of their backs – and they would regularly drop down below the horizontal to rise again to continue drumming… At the end – they did a last wild rendition and came forward to formally bow. They left the stage – the main character waiving to us wildly… then he returned, grinning and enticed another one back – and then more – and we suddenly had an encore. A good proportion of the auditorium missed it. Just shows sitting quietly at the end of a performance pays off. Two hours of extraordinary sound – filled with joy and fun. I didn’t think of anything else for the whole performance. I admit to snatching another ticket – I’m off work on the last day of their performances and am going to go again…maybe this time I won’t have a tall man sitting in front of me.

So, I did – that was yesterday, their penultimate performance. This time I was in the Stalls, not the Dress Circle, only a few rows from the stage, with three tiny little Japanese children sitting in the row in front of me – ideal!

It was, if anything better than the last time – even with my knowledge of the performance. I arrived early and sat and had an orange juice whilst waiting for my seat to be made available…they were practising….and I enjoyed listening to the thunder that reverberated through the bar area… My seat was placed this time so I could see the expressions on their faces and the instruments in much more detail. This is what I wrote in my notes app. on my phone on my return.

A dozen wild cats with boots on – they perform with supple boots – which look not unlike those worn on building sites. Wild and feral. Joyous, mock jealous and temperamental in character. Drumming – a deep resonant throb, purring to a crescendo till there’s an in-articulated cry, almost feline in tone, that gathers the group. Boots which must be lighter than they look allowing the drummers to leap and prance. Cloaks a whirlwind – drums held high, sticks higher. Primeval. Then other drums staccato and sharp and the flow of the flute twisting through the drums then the trill of the tiny cymbals, bright notes of light cutting through the rumble, rattle and reverberation, as the performers gyrate and fly across the stage. Each piece a short story related in drumming, muscle and music: tales of the joy of life, of living.

I shall go again, when they come back.

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