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SPRING 2015 |index


Barefoot Gen
Maya Productions presents by Keiji Nakazawa in an adaptation by Tatsuo Suzuki and Bryn Jones.

August 6th 2015 marks the 70th Anniversary of the dropping of the Atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Immediately killing 80,000 people and causing the death of tens of thousands of others from radiation poisoning this remains one of the most devastating attacks on civilians that the world has ever seen.

In July 2015 Maya Productions will premiere a professional theatre production of Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa at the Half Moon Theatre, London. The play is an English adaptation of the seminal Japanese Manga (Comic), which chronicles the story of an anti-war family, living in Hiroshima during the Second World War.  Told through the eyes of a young boy, Gen, this is a powerful and moving tale of a family struggling in extreme circumstances.

Keiji Nakazawa himself was one of the few survivors who were close to Ground Zero when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. He lost his father, brother, and sister in the nuclear holocaust and started writing this part autobiographical comic in 1972 for a best-selling Japanese children’s comic weekly. The story was anthologised, eventually reaching ten volumes as Nakazawa continued to chronicle the post-war world of Japan until the mid 1960s. A volunteer pacifist organisation, Project Gen, formed in Tokyo in 1976 to produce translations so that this vital story could be shared globally.

Maya Productions is a small theatre company based in London that makes theatre that reflects and celebrates diversity. Our vision is of a world where people of all ages, abilities, cultures and classes can be inspired by and contribute to theatre. Working from the cultural heart of South East London we create productions and projects that explore the local landscape and nurture an appetite for national and global ideas. I was appointed Artistic Director in 2013 and Barefoot Gen will be the first full scale production under my leadership.

This theatrical adaptation by Tatsuo Suziki and Bryn Jones was originally commissioned for the Crucible Youth Theatre in Sheffield in 1996. I worked as Assistant Director on this production and, like many of the young actors, the Second World War was not something that I deeply felt or connected with. The seemingly perpetual Sunday afternoon black and white war films of my childhood  had made me see the first and second world wars as a western, white male enterprises- something I felt quite distant from. My experience of Japanese culture was also fairly limited. 

The play opened up these two things in an extraordinarily potent way. What, to all, had been a distant past in a distant land became our present as we found a deep engagement and connection to the characters and story, fully making them our own. For all of us, including our families, friends and the audience of Sheffielders who saw the production, it became a crucial reminder of the power of the human spirit to triumph over adversity, and served as a warning of humanity’s potential for self destruction. We were lucky enough also to have Keiji Nakazawa himself in the audience. Meeting him, a survivor who was brave enough to challenge his own country’s militaristic zeal, was truly inspirational.
I am a firm believer in the power of the arts to make social, political and global issues more immediate and impactful on individuals, particularly young people. As a teenager myself growing up in the 1980s my awareness and interest in the Cold War and global politics increased one hundredfold when I heard Sting’s song Russians and watched the horror of the Nuclear Winter that the film Threads portrayed so honestly. Both these pieces of work encouraged me to be anti-war, a teenager proudly wearing my CND and Ban the Bomb badges.

Although the nature of warfare has changed over the past 70 years, we are still living in a world full of armed conflict, and one where it seems that media coverage and government intervention deems some lives and certain conflicts more important than others.

The Hiroshima story is clearly known, but not often felt, and so I wanted to bring to a new generation of British children, an experience that will promote connections and a sense of global responsibility for people living in distant countries.

Our production will be rooted in the Japan of the 1940s and we will employ a cast of six professional British Japanese and Korean actors to support young audiences’ ability to empathise with those from different cultures.

The show will be aimed at a schools and a family audience, aged 10 upwards. We will tell the story simply, honestly and with the humour that Keiji Nakazawa employs so well in his comic. We will highlight the themes of nationalism and immigration that are uncomfortably relevant in Britain today, as we examine a family and community torn apart by war. As we portray this devastating attack we hope to inspire a new generation of young people to seek alternative ways of solving conflict than armed struggle.

We want the play to be a catalyst for further art, debate and thought. Alongside the performances at Half Moon Theatre we will invite a range of panellists to debate the issues raised in a post-show discussion.  We will commission seven emerging artists (writers, theatre makers, musicians, film makers and poets) to create response performances to the production. Each will take a decade over the past 70 years and will explore and examine the worlds continuing relationship to war and weapons.  For schools and youth groups we will devise an educational programme that will enable young people to engage with the themes of the play in more depth.

Keiji Nakazawa died in December 2012. We have been invited by the Nakazawa Foundation and Fusako Kurahara to tour our version to Japan this autumn. In 2016, with producing partners Half Moon, we plan to tour to venues in London and nationally.

The Crucible’s youth theatre production of Barefoot Gen was thus reviewed by The Star, (Sheffield):
“This astonishing world premiere is one of the most shockingly powerful and moving pieces to be seen at the Crucible in too many seasons ....a story that needs to be told to a new generation.
To find out more about this project, our work contct Suzanne Gorman at info@mayaproductions.co.uk.

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