'I am a divided man, one foot in the ocean, the other on the land'.
William Adams, a restless Elizabethan Englishman who takes his chances on voyages across the globe in an 'eggshell of a ship', bestrides not just sea and shore, but cultures and continents in this absorbing drama by Mike Poulton and Shoichiro Kawai.
It's based on an extraordinary slice of history. Adams, aboard a Dutch trading vessel, was shipwrecked in 1600 in Japan, where he formed an allegiance with a powerful warlord and was caught up in the bloody struggle for the shogunate.
The narrative iscrammed with thrilling incident: dynastic squabbles, interfaith clashes, and spectacular battles collide with tender scenes of love, friendship and self-discovery. Gregory Doran’s magnificent production is by turns epic and intimate, fluid yet effortlessly compelling.
Visually, it’s ravishing. There are exquisitely painted screens, golden clouds and cherry blossom, comet-streaked skies and falling snow, ranks of armoured samurai. Into this contradictory world of intricate refinement and ferocious feudal violence stumbles Stephen Boxer as Adams, dubbed Anjin (Pilot).
Boxer unerringly charts Adams’ course through personal and political tumult, as he is seduced by a way of life that makes England seem brutish. Masachika Ichimura is riveting as the wily, magisterial shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa, and Yuki Furukawa as the young Jesuit priest who becomes Adams’ closest confidant is both impassioned and heartstoppingly imperilled as the tide turns against Christianity, crucifixions are ordered and sliced-off heads roll.
The whole is gorgeously rich: a work of silken elegance and startling savagery. Sam Marlowe