Kabuki Theatre of Japan

Kabuki, the popular theatre of Japan, has captured the hearts and minds of audiences from its appearance at the beginning of the seventeenth century to the present day. Plays range from realistic tragic dramas to fantastic adventure stories. Music and dance are skilfully employed, bringing to life characters from the Japanese past, both real and imaginary. Impressive costumes and make-up, and startling stage effects add to the drama.

All the actors in Kabuki are men, playing the roles of warriors and thieves as well as respectable ladies and low-class prostitutes. They have always been worshipped by an adoring public and at critical moments during the long performances the audience participate by shouting out the names of their favourite actors. In the past, fan clubs were set up and many people collected the prints and other memorabilia produced in celebration of their favourite actor.

This tour explores Kabuki from its historical beginnings to the impact it has had on contemporary culture. Japanese prints and photographs from the collections of the British Museum have been used to illustrate the themes of acting styles, music and dance, theatre and audiences, make-up and costume.

The tour also examines two great Kabuki actors - Rikan and Shikan - who performed in Osaka during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Their famous rivalry was the focus of the exhibition Kabuki Heroes on the Osaka Stage 1780-1830, at the British Museum from 30 June to 11 September 2005.