Home > History, Interviews, Theatre > Interview: Actor Stephen Boxer – Anjin: The Shogun and the Samurai

Interview: Actor Stephen Boxer – Anjin: The Shogun and the Samurai

“What I love is how their friendship [Anjin and Tokugawa] crossed boundaries and superseded all that and became mates!”  Steve Boxer

Stephen Boxer  as AnjinStephen Boxer is an Olivier nominated stage, film and television actor. A veteran of the RSC he has performed widely at, amongst others, the National Theatre, the Barbican, the Duchess Theatre, and the Hammersmith Lyric. He won a London Fringe Award for Best Actor in his role as the Governor in ‘The Clearing’ at the Bush Theatre and his performance with the RSC as William Tyndale in ‘Written on the Heart’ at the Swan Theatre in Stratford won him a nomination as Best Supporting Actor in the 2012 UK Theatre Awards.

Diverse Japan is extremely grateful to Mr. Boxer for giving up some of his precious time to discuss his involvement as an actor in the epic theatre production Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai, directed by Gregory Doran and produced by Thelma Holt, which runs from 31st January until 9th February 2013 at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre. To book tickets, click here.

Interview: 21st January 2013 (via telephone).

Interviewer: Trevor Skingle on behalf of Diverse Japan

(L to R) Miles Richardson, Stephen Boxer & Keith Osborn in ANJIN credit Takayuki Abe

(L to R) Miles Richardson, Stephen Boxer & Keith Osborn (credit Takayuki Abe)

How did your connection with Anjin come about?

Through Greg Doran, the Director, who is now running the RSC. I was doing a David Edgar play with him at Stratford called ‘Written on the Heart’ which was about the origins of the King James Bible. Thelma Holt brought it into the West End and Thelma is a Co-Producer of Anjin. They had done this production in Japan about three years ago but they needed someone to take over the part of Anjin. Some of the cast remains the same though some of the others have changed and I’d just been working with Greg and Thelma and they rang me up and said do you want to do this? Would you like five weeks in Japan? I went in November and stayed for five weeks. We rehearsed for a week in London mainly with an English cast and one of the Japanese actors and then we joined the Japanese cast in Tōkyō and we did two and a half weeks of rehearsals there. The set was the same. Ichimura who plays opposite me, the Japanese actor who plays the Shōgun, was the same. A large part of the Japanese cast was the same except that they’ve changed the actor playing the English speaking Japanese priest, it’s now Yuki Furukawa. Then we opened in Yokohama, which is just outside of Tōkyō, and did three days I think with four or five performances there. Then we had a week off and I went to Kyōto on the bullet train and had a wonderful time walking round temples and castles. Kyōto was beautiful.

When you were in Japan did you visit any of the places that were associated with Miura Anjin?

Yes I did. I went to Hemi which was where his estate was where he set up a sort of vinery and was trading in all sorts of things. I think he had about ninety people working for him. I met the priest at the Anjin Temple there and he was absolutely delightful. He spent the day with me and he and his wife took me round the temple and they allowed me to hold the Buddhist statue that Anjin had given to the temple which he used to take round on his journeys. I think the statue itself dates from the 1400s. The priest’s wife was very funny. I was holding the statue and he was taking photographs and she said, “Well, I’ve never been allowed to hold it”. I was very very privileged. They took me up to a memorial on the hill for William Adams and his wife Yuki. I was met up there by the gardener and the caretaker. At that point I’d only been rehearsing about a week and a half and I was trying to find out who this guy was. And I was treated by them with such deference and veneration. I felt a bit of an impostor then. They saw me as the embodiment of this man. Honestly, he is hugely venerated in Japan. It was very touching. And what’s interesting is that here I don’t think people here know who the hell he is. In Gillingham (the birthplace of Adams) they do but I think broadly he’s not that well known.

Seiko Sakurada as Oyuki & Stephen Boxer as Anjin in ANJIN credit Takayuki Abe

With Seiko Sakurada (L) as Oyuki (Image credit Takayuki Abe)

Did you make use of the TV mini series ‘James Clavell’s Shōgun’ at all?

I know there was TV series called ‘Shōgun’ with Richard Chamberlain in the eighties. I probably saw it when I was younger but they changed the names and they sentimentalised it and they sort of put a Hollywood gloss on it as far as I remember and I’ve read so, no, I didn’t use. Instead I read the Giles Milton book and also I found another book in my local library written by a chap called Philip Rogers. It’s out of print. It was published in 1956 and is called, ‘The First Englishman in Japan’. Philip Rogers was a native of Gillingham and he found out about William Adams when he was young and he got curious. It’s a lovely old book in sort of dusty old trough colour and they dug it out for me from the reserve section in the basement of the library. It’s got pictures of the Anjin Festival in Hemi from 1951 so I took it back to the priest and he was thrilled to see this book as he’d never seen it before.

Were you aware that the figurehead from the Liefde still exists?

We were hoping to go and see the figure head of the Liefde. Greg went to see it last time but apparently it’s in the stockroom of the Tōkyō Museum. I think occasionally it’s brought out and put on display.

Did you know that some time ago it was taken to the Netherlands for an exhibition on Dutch Maritime history?

Well the Dutch celebrated their four hundred years in 2000 because of the Dutch East India Company; they got there earlier than we did. Thelma and I went to the press launch of Japan 400 celebrating four hundred years of Anglo-Japanese relations. We were surrounded by economists, academics and politicians and they let us have our little say. It was here in London at the Commonwealth Rooms I think and there was a bit of coverage in the Times.

Did you go to the site of the battlefield at Sekigahara, the site of Ieyasu’s famous victory?

No, and I didn’t do any specific research on it apart from reading the book. I found the Japanese history so labyrinthine and tribal. Of course its meat and drink to the Japanese cast so my education was through doing the play rather than anything else. There is a bit in the play where we posit the possibility because of the nineteen cannons that they took from the Leifde and of course the techniques that William Adams would have known about that it’s possible that they could have won that particular battle because of the expertise in cannon warfare which they kind of gleaned from Adams and the Dutch sailors. That’s a bit of a conceit that’s in the play.

Stephen Boxer as Anjin in ANJIN credit Takayuki Abe

Stephen Boxer as Anjin (Image credit: Takayuki Abe)

Had you any previous experience of Japanese theatre before you got involved in Anjin?

I’d been there twice but I haven’t done Japanese theatre there. I played the Globe in Tōkyō where I did ‘Richard III’ in 1993 and ‘Measure for Measure’ in 1994.

If you were to summon up Anjin Miura’s character and what you know about him how would you say his story affects you emotionally?

Well, what I love is how their friendship, that of a man who was intellectually and spiritually curious, as was Ieyasu, crossed boundaries of language, culture, geography and superseded all that and they became mates. I just think it’s a great message and a great sort of lovely positive story. Timeless! Absolutely timeless!

What would you say are the major differences between working with a Western cast and working with a Japanese cast?

Interesting… …what I kind of had to grasp, because I become a samurai, is the disciplines of Japanese. Not only as it’s reflected in their acting, but also the disciplines of being a samurai and their movement, politesse and ritual. What they got from us, and it was interesting, during the rehearsal and during the performance period was the eclecticism of British theatre technique and a kind of relaxed subversive humour which was possibly slightly alien to the more traditional forms which are broached in the play. So Greg encouraged them to be subversive at the same time as observing the formal ritual of Japanese theatre. Ichimura is great! He doesn’t have a lot of English and I have next to no Japanese. It’s interesting how our relationship has grown just through sense really and obviously visually. During our scenes I have to listen for my cues in Japanese and listen for his in English. The more familiar he gets I’ve noticed the quicker his Japanese becomes he’s not quite as emphatic so I have to listen so carefully but it’s a great exercise in concentration. It’s absolutely brilliant.

Was it difficult to cope with the Japanese language and of course they work in an almost totally different cultural context and their cultural values are very different from ours? Was it difficult when trying to work with the Japanese cast? 

It wasn’t difficult. I’d say it was interesting. And it is different. In terms of the status of actors Ichimura has a guy who walks around following him doing things like getting his slippers and making his tea. We don’t have that system over here. It’s quite old fashioned by our standards but nonetheless very interesting.

…a carry-over from the Kabuki of old perhaps?

I agree with you but that’s what Ichimura had to do when he was a young actor and that’s how this young actor is kind of learning his trade

…like an apprentice system?

Absolutely.

Masachika Ichimura as Ieyasu & Stephen Boxer as Anjin in ANJIN credit Takayuki Abe

With Masachika Ichimura (L) as Ieyasu (Image credit: Takayuki Abe)

How did the relationships develop with some of the principle Japanese actors, Ichimura Masachika and Yuki Furukawa for instance?

Yuki is delightful. He speaks very good English. He’s been brought up in Canada and Japan. He’s an interesting guy. He’s young and he’s at the start of his career. He trained as a scientist so he’s come into it from quite an interesting angle. In a way he’s got a foot in both camps. He’s aware of the protocol of the Japanese theatre but he’s also become aware of maybe the freedom of Western theatre but also the insecurities. It’s a very interesting line they have to tread because HoriPro, who are the Co-Production company, have a stable of young actors and older actors as well so they act rather like your agent and your work provider. I suppose it’s a bit more like the studio, you know MGM and all that sort of thing in those days, but they’re giving you a living which we don’t all have over here, as you probably well know its hand to mouth. So again that sort of cultural difference is fascinating. Some of the actors speak wonderful English and it’s been really really lovely getting to know them. In fact I’m so looking forward to them coming over next week. I think we’ve established some great friendships, some bonds, and they gave us a great time over there because socially they knew where to go and what to do and which restaurants to go to. There’s one guy, Yazuo, whose father owns a bar in downtown Tōkyō where we used to repair to after the show and we had just a whale of a time and it was the size of a small sitting room, it was so small and he’d had this place for forty years but it’s full of places like that.

I just hope we can be as hospitable over here to them as they were to us really.

Thank you, Mr. Boxer. It’s been a pleasure!

Thank you.

Special thanks to Ruth Moloney at Amanda Malpass PR

Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre info:

Performance times

Mon – Sat at 7.30pm Wed & Sat Mats at 2.30pm

Running time

3 hrs (including one 20 min interval)

Tickets

£16, £22, £29, £48

Group Discounts Groups 8+ 20% off stalls seats for most performances. more »

Not available online or in conjunction with any other offer. To book, call the Ticket Office on 0844 412 4300.

Please Note: Under 5s are not admitted to this event.  more »

Save                        

Simply buy tickets for this and any other show displaying the save logo at the same time and receive 20% off your tickets.

School discount performances

Wed 6 at 2.30pm & 7.30pm Thu 7 at 7.30pm

Sadler’s Wells Theatre Official Website: www.sadlerswells.com

Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai

Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai

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