Revival of ‘Knights’ Tale’ happily reunites a tight-knit cast

The musical “Knights’ Tale: Kishi Monogatari” returns to the stage, celebrating three years since the buzzworthy debut of the production featuring costars Koichi Domoto and Yoshio Inoue.

Last year, the ensemble cast gave a symphonic concert, performing songs from the production as a way of gearing up for the musical’s revival.

The original story, a tragicomedy based on William Shakespeare and John Fletcher’s “The Two Noble Kinsmen,” also draws inspiration from “Teseida” by Giovanni Boccaccio and “The Knight’s Tale” by Geoffrey Chaucer.

World-renowned stage director John Caird has taken the reins since the production’s Japan debut three years ago. Also known for directing the London premiere of “Les Miserables,” Caird came to Japan in the summer of this year and, together with the performers, put everything he had into rehearsals.

The story follows two cousins — Arcite, played by Domoto, and Palamon, played by Inoue — who are knights being held in captivity. Both fall in love and vie for the affections of Emilia, the sister of the grand duke of the enemy kingdom, portrayed by Kei Otozuki.

At the same time, the dungeon keeper’s daughter tasked with looking after the cousins, played by Mone Kamishiraishi, falls in love with Palamon.

While the story itself hasn’t gone through many changes, many of the scenes’ direction and music have been newly arranged. Domoto and Inoue have injected more freedom and comedic flair into their performances, while Otozuki and Kamishiraishi’s beautiful singing voices, imbued with a strong will, have an even greater presence. It’s abundantly clear just how much more energy the cast is pouring into each scene.

The Yomiuri Shimbun spoke with the four principal performers about the production.

The following are excerpts from the interview.

The Yomiuri Shimbun: This revival has been a long time coming.

Otozuki: Although revivals typically tend not to stray far from the original show, John gave us a lot of advice that he didn’t give us the first time around. He also spiced up the lines a little bit, and I felt as though I suddenly understood [my character] better than I did before. The strength of Emilia’s will and the reasons behind it have been fleshed out, haven’t they?

Kamishiraishi: Looking back at old footage from our first performance, I think to myself, “I was such a baby!” (laughs) Three years have passed since then, and I think I’ve become a bit more mature.

Q: Another impressive aspect of this story is its noble portrayal of women. The way gender is perceived in society has changed a lot in the past three years. One could think that this play somehow saw what was coming.

Otozuki: Maybe three years ago, John had an inkling about that very thing.

Kamishiraishi: Maybe so!

Otozuki: Nowadays, there is a growing trend to create an environment where everyone can properly express their opinions. This, perhaps, is because people believe that the differences between us are a good thing. This play depicts the importance of treating people with love and sincerity, regardless of their gender because they are human beings.

Kamishiraishi: This is a story with a happy ending and I feel that it hints that there may be a way to peacefully and happily coexist. It’s not just another love story or comedy, it’s actually a very socially conscious musical that makes you laugh, while also providing an ‘aha moment.’

Unchanging bonds

Q: Have you also noticed any differences? (to Domoto and Inoue)

Inoue: Three years ago, I certainly gave it my all. I was under enormous pressure and had a lot of enthusiasm to make [the show] a success. I thought, “If things don’t go well between Koichi and I, this will go down [as a failure.]” (laughs).

It was our first time working together, so I was worried about what would happen if we got into a big fight. (laughs) I’m happy that the exact opposite happened. I may not have that fire in the belly now, but I can focus my energy on the best way to convey [our show to the audience].

Domoto: Just as Yoshio said, we were fueled by desperation before. My hands were full dealing with my own issues. So much so that I wondered if I would make it on the first day (laughs).

Inoue: That’s true this time, too (laughs).

Domoto: We’ve shared those feelings and overcome them. The confidence I gained by doing so makes me feel like I’m getting stronger. This time around, there were many things that I discovered from watching others rehearse. Before, I wasn’t able to look at things objectively. This time, however, I was able to discover each scene’s importance to the story, and my worldview has expanded. It’s fun and I’m happy to be able to try out different ways of acting to create this kind of relationship.

Q: How do you feel about Caird’s direction?

Domoto: How can I put this? It’s like John brings out my best parts after I put myself on the cutting board. It’s something I can’t experience in any other line of work. Also, he never solves any problems I’m having for me. Which I’m sure is intentional, right?

Kamishiraishi: Yeah (laughs).

Otozuki: For example?

Kamishiraishi: It’s like hints at the right answer, pushing us toward it, rather than just giving it to us.

Domoto: When something bothered John, he said, “[Let’s do it] one more time, one more time,” without telling us just what he was going for and then just said, “That’s a wrap,” when it was over.

Q: The unity between the performers is as strong as ever.

Domoto: I feel like we shared everything with each other three years ago, so when we get together, it’s like producing something wonderful. Oh, do you know what I mean? (laughs)

Inoue: It feels like I understand, but not really (laughs). Three years ago, we formed an intense bond and that relationship has just continued from there. But that doesn’t mean we’re attached at the hip.

Otozuki: Right. I think that might be the secret to our relationship’s longevity.

Kamishiraishi: It’s like the secret of couples that never break up.

Otozuki: I know it may be presumptuous, but I think our bond gives me a sense of security as if we’ve been together forever.

The revival of “Knights’ Tale” finished its run at the Umeda Arts Theater in Osaka in September, and will be performed at the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo through Nov. 7. From there, it will be performed at the Hakataza Theater in Fukuoka from Nov. 13 to 29.