Simple stage for classic poem


If soaring words and soulful music are what you seek from theatergoing, then look no further than “Enoch Arden,” the first program in Tokyo-based production company Total Stage Produce’s series, titled “A Link Between Words/Language and Music.”

This performance-recital of the great 19th-century English Poet Laureate Alfred Tennyson’s moving work of the same name is staged by TSP in the simplest of ways, with just a narrator, Kanji Ishimaru, and pianist Maho Ishino.

The poem tells the story of Enoch Arden, a fisherman who married his childhood friend Annie, and lives happily together with her and their three children. Then, Enoch loses his local livelihood and, despite his family’s objections, decides to join the crew of an oceangoing ship. But Enoch’s boat becomes lost at sea and he has no contact with his family for 10 years. Meanwhile, Annie struggles to survive, helped by a childhood friend, Philip, to whom she eventually gets married when everyone thinks Enoch has died. Then, when Enoch does reappear, there is no place for him, and the loving life he has so long dreamed of resuming is no more. . . .

In 1897, the German composer Richard Strauss interpreted “Enoch Arden” for piano, and it is in this renowned form, with a lone narrator, that audiences here can now savor a work that’s been a classic the world over for more than a century.

This rare treat is made all the more special for its Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka audiences by the return to the independent stage of 43-year-old Ishimaru, who has taken a yearlong break since leaving his 17-year residency with Shiki Theatre Company — the major musicals corporation that has produced local versions of “Cats,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Phantom of the Opera.”

Ishimaru says he has long loved Tennyson’s words and Strauss’ tunes, and he has been involved with this project from its inception with a view to it marking his 2009 return to the entertainment world. Quite what he and pianist Ishino — with leading contemporary theater actor/director Akira Shirai taking the helm — will make of this challenge is a far more appetizing prospect than all that commercialized glitz Ishimaru has at last left behind.

“Enoch Arden” runs Jan. 9 to 12 at Tokyo FM Hall in Hanzomon, Tokyo. It then plays at the Nagoya City Performing Arts Center on Jan. 15 and in Osaka at the Matsushita IMP Hall on Jan. 17 and 18. For more information, call Sunrise Promotion on (0570) 00-3337 or visit www.tspnet.co.jp