Purcarete’s ‘Scarlet Princess’ finally staged after pandemic cancellation

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Theater director Silviu Purcarete speaks in an interview.
“This is a paradox I always talk about: Theater is of no use, but you can make good use of it.”

As pandemic-driven border control has eased in Japan, large-scale theatrical productions from abroad have begun visiting again. Watching creative ideas and powerful performances from world-class talent for the first time in a long while has evoked fresh emotions. Interviews with artists and producers who have overcome difficulties to come to Japan make us realize how crucial international exchanges are to the performing arts.

One such production is “The Scarlet Princess,” directed by renowned Romanian director Silviu Purcarete and staged at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre in Tokyo from Oct. 8 to 10.

A unicorn-like creature covered with fluffy fur, from which a samurai sword protrudes like a horn; performing kurogo stagehands; and a princess riding a Segway on the hanamichi elevated walkway in the auditorium — this play based on the kabuki performance “Sakurahime Azuma Bunsho” (The scarlet princess and her story in the east) presented a perfect harmony of Eastern European sensitivities and the Japanese spirit of eccentricity. The production was surrealistic, comical, eerie and cute at the same time.

Purcarete said kabuki has many things in common with Shakespearean plays.

“[Kabuki] is a universal art form, popular theater, a mixture of tragedy and comedy. It has also had substantial influence on contemporary European art,” he said.

Purcarete arrived in Japan with a company of about 70 actors and staff members, but the production was originally slated for performances in Tokyo in May 2020. Its cancellation due to the pandemic was a bitter experience.

In the autumn of the same year, Purcarete came to Japan to direct “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with a Japanese cast, but border control was strict at that time. He received support from the Romanian Embassy in Japan and the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre, which organized the production, and they helped him obtain permission to enter the country as an exceptional case. Yet he still had to quarantine for two weeks after arrival, during which time he had no choice but to run rehearsals remotely.

“It gave us an opportunity to think about the meaning of international exchange and what forms the core of performing arts,” said Kazuhiro Tateishi, a theater official in charge of the production.

Purcarete was born in 1950 and spent his youth under the dictatorship of then president Nicolae Ceausescu. Contact with foreign countries was strictly restricted.

“After the fall of the regime, we were finally able to travel outside the country, which felt as if we had been freed from prison,” he said.

Having gone through such oppression, he knows the importance of exchanges between different cultures. At the same time, he also has a realistic view of the role of the arts.

“It is an invented slogan that art can heal anything. Theater has no power to fight bombs,” he said resolutely.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is spreading fear and concern everywhere.

“If you ask me which is more important, hospitals or theaters, the answer is obvious. But if we lose theaters, then we only have hospitals. What we thespians can do is entertain people, just as we’ve done until now,” he said.

Purcarete remained in Japan after the show to direct the Moliere play “L’Avare” (The Miser), presented as “Shusendo The Money Crazy” in Japanese. The production starring Kuranosuke Sasaki is running at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre through Dec. 11.

Photo by Atsushi Goto
A scene from “The Scarlet Princess” directed by Silviu Purcarete in Tokyo