Review: Shun Kin at the Barbican Theatre

4/5 stars

The idea of staging an experimental production, entirely in Japanese with surtitles, seems like it would only have an esoteric appeal.

Yet Shun Kin, based on a 1933 novella and essay by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki drew a large audience at its second night at the Barbican.

The appeal was clear. The multifaceted exploration of a twisted story of unrequited love was told through a number of impressive characters and in a creative way.

The story is that of Shun Kin, a blind young girl from a wealthy family and her guide, servant boy Sasuke, mainly told from the perspective of Sasuke. Initially Shun Kin is played by a Japanese style puppet, and in two stages progresses to being played by a human being, one of the puppeteers, Eri Fukatsu.

As the main character transforms so does the story: to a wider comment on western and modern day influences on Japan. It becomes as much East meets West as boy meets girl.

The audience is swept into the tale through compelling use of minimalist props accompanied by awe-inspiring visuals. A piece of paper becomes a bird, and wooden sticks held by cast members form moving walls of imaginary rooms for the characters.

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Although executed brilliantly, Shun Kin never becomes too serious, the audience is taken from highly charged exchanges between Sasuke and Shun Kin to witnessing humorous one sided phone conversations between the modern day narrator and her lover.

Whilst complex, the story is never complicated and the production is a joy to watch. Visually arresting, surprising, moving and original Complicite’s version of Shun Kin would delight many.

Shun Kin directed by Simon McBurney is part of the Barbican’s Japan season, For more information visit