Saturday, August 08, 2009

Standing Ovation for Tao's Magical Samurai Drumming

Now, I hope you don't think I'm banging on a bit much about my taiko favourites, Tao, now playing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. No sooner than I had posted (here) about my enthusiasm that they were returning to Edinburgh, and had encouraged a number of friends to get tickets, the doubts set in. What if they weren't as good this year as I had remembered them from 2004 and 2005? I have purchased a ticket to see them on my birthday. What if I went along and I was disappointed - that would be a spoiler on the big day.

Yesterday was my first festival excursion of the year. It was a great day in Edinburgh. It wasn't raining, for a start. I had a (Thai) meal with an old friend at lunchtime, enjoyed the street theatre, took in a few shows, and generally enjoyed the buzz that is Edinburgh at festival time. And with doubts lingering in my mind, I decided to buy a ticket for the preview of Tao's new programme, and I joined the queue for the Assembly Hall.

An hour and a half later, I staggered down to catch my train physically and emotionally drained. I have never, ever, enjoyed a festival performance so much... and I've seen many over the years. The endorphins were buzzing round in my bloodstream. The excitement was similar to having just watched David Murdoch's Team Scotland beating Canada, for the third time in the week, to win the World Curling Championship last April!

Tao were seriously good. What made the new programme even better than the Art of Noise in 2005? The skill, enthusiasm and entertainment were all there as before. There were new instruments to be listened to, and I have no clue (yet) what these are called. (Homework needed before I see them again later in the month.) There was more humour in the performance than last time. The eleven strong group (three girls and eight guys) looked to be really enjoying themselves too, engaging with a near capacity audience. They were having fun!

"Are you enjoy?" was the question that came from the stage some two thirds the way through the show.

"YES!!!!!!!!" we responded.

"Enjoy more," was the comeback! And we did.

The cast came through the audience in the stalls, and a young man at the end of my row had the opportunity to try his skill. And a good fist he made of it too, striking out a good beat in time with the others. Jealous. Me?

I now know that the photos above, below and here are from the new production which, after the Edinburgh run is finished, will tour Europe for the remainder of this year, and North America in 2010. The Fringe page for Tao is here.

I mentioned before that it is not non-stop drumming. I don't want to spoil the surprise for anyone going to see Tao for the first time, but two of the performers were amazing on the bamboo flute (called, I think shinobue, but I'm probably wrong) in a performance which is called (I think) Green Breeze. I'm not sure who the flautists were on the night. Arisa Nishi, Natsuko Koroyonagi and Kiyoko Aito all play the instrument. More homework needed!

Last night's performance came to an end with a spectacular finale. Everyone was on their feet to applaud. The cast seemed openly moved and pleased with the reception - which undoubtedly they will get every night for the next three weeks. They left the stage. Few left the auditorium... and we got an encore! Magical it was, as promised.

Anyway, I've bought the DVD (and needless to say it's on in the background as I'm typing this), and would even have bought the tee-shirt if there had been one! I'm practising eating with my chopsticks using only my left hand, as all taiko drummers are ambidextrous. And I'm now learning the Japanese for brilliant, spectacular, fantastic, wonderful, and other superlatives.

What would John Knox have made of it all, I just wonder?

Just one other thing. I have no intention of becoming a festival critic. There are lots of others out there. One has even enjoyed Tao already, see here. Of the shows I caught yesterday was one by Circa. Contemporary dance, physical theatre and gymnastics fused with circus performance. On any other day this would have been the highlight. They are an Australian group, whose website is here. I could not begin to describe the show. You have to see it. But if I just mention one of the cast, wearing stilettos, standing on the shoulders of another, perhaps you can understand why Circa had the audience gasping in wonderment. Red stilettos? A fellow fringe-goer suggested, "So you can't see the blood?"

I had to do a double take on this street performer near the Castle. Impressive, I took his picture. He knighted me! "Arise, Sir Robert of Skip." Ah well, it's an alternative to 'Bob the Blogger'!


  1. Are you sure that's John Knox and not 'the Sheriff' in street theatre mode?

  2. I wish I had bough a DVD instead of running for the train ! Where can I get one, they were fantastic.