Japan has a rich culture of stage performance, from kabuki, bunraku and rakugo, to the more modern Takarazaka revue. Now, in Kyoto, a new type of show is entertaining spectators at the weekends. The exceptional, non-verbal show GEAR is a treat for all ages.

IMG_3278In the future, in a dilapidated toy factory, the repetitive lives of four “Roboroids”, humanized robots, are forever changed when a toy-doll comes to life and begins to interact with them. Although entertaining to children, the story doesn’t really matter. The plot has been written as a vessel for demonstrating the amazing talents of the five member cast. Each interaction between Doll and Roboroid reveals a performer’s personal expertise. The Roboroids wow the audience with amusing mime artistry, great break-dancing, confounding magic and impressive juggling – none of which particularly add to the storyline, but together become a spectacular variety show of a play. Doll herself is endearingly puppet-like and effectively compères the 80 minute performance, throwing in some ballet and a light-up dress for good measure.

Of the talents presented the mime drew a lot of laughs (from a rather quiet but enraptured audience), but the magician won out on comedy when his audience participation picked on the only foreigners in the audience – always a winning move. The break-dancing Roboroid worked the crowd well throughout and the juggler’s colour-changing, eight-ball finale was truly mesmerising. Watching these performers will certainly inspire you to learn a new party trick!

IMG_3280It was not, however, purely the performances which amazed us. First of all, the set was excellent, stretching out to the audience [and even evident in the décor in the lobby toilets!] to make the toy-factory feel real and really involve the audience. To this end, arrival at your seat included discovery of your very own eye-protection goggles, necessary for the “indoor tornado” finale. But it was the lighting which really brought the show together. Along with the usual stage-lighting, GEAR uses Projection Mapping to truly bring the factory to life by coordinating the projections seamlessly with both set and actors. It is difficult to describe the effect of Projection Mapping, but for GEAR it made what is ostensibly a very good talent show into a spectacular performance with a real story.

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If you fancy an afternoon or evening of laughs and gasps of wonder get yourself a ticket to GEAR. The show performs twice daily Friday through Sunday (with occiasional weekday shows) until the end of March. Tickets are 3500-4000\ for adults, 1500-2000\ for school age students, and free to 3-5 year olds. Purchase via the websitehttp://www.gear.ac/en/ticket/ticket.html.

IMG_3283The venue, Art Complex 1928, is worthy of a visit in itself. Originally built in 1928 for newspaper Osaka Mainichi Shimbun, this unusual example of art-deco inspired architecture in the centre of Kyoto is now registered as a Kyoto City Tangible Cultural Property. It is currently home to the GEAR theatre, a couple of boutiques and some lovely independent cafes – perfect for a post-performance tipple!

Charlotte Griffiths