Stage & Screen

"I feel extremely grateful" Pacific Overtures' Kanako Nakano

&ASIAN sits down with actress Kanako Nakano from Sondheim's Pacific Overtures, to talk about heritage, creating a character, and the magic of this brand new adaptation of the famous musical.
Eu Jin Hwang, Sario Solomon, Saori Oda, Rachel Jayne Picar, Luoran Ding, Masashi Fujimoto in Pacific Overtures. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
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"I feel extremely grateful" Pacific Overtures' Kanako Nakano

How does it feel to be part of a revival of an important telling of Japanese history?

Proud to be representing Japanese spirit (Yamato-damashii). This opportunity gave me a chance to question and rediscover more about where I come from. Learning and imagining about people who lived before us in a different era is always fascinating and you can learn a lot from them. This has made me feel so fortunate to be here right now experiencing different cultures living in the UK. I feel extremely grateful.

What is something you bring to Tamate that you have not brought to a character before?

I would say being as natural and calm as possible. Tamate only has short dialogues with her husband, Kayama in the show so it is all about her energy. I intend to express what she feels with my body; showing how much she loves her husband, cares for him, and trusts him. Wives are very strong women being great companions to their husbands. So that idea has encouraged me to look at all the details in this play... How I wear my kimono, obi (my costumes), how my posture is, how my manner is, how I hold and ground myself. I also love playing in the stillness especially in The Bowler Hat number. I may not be moving physically but there is so much going on in Tamate’s mind witnessing how her husband has changed over time.

Kanako Nakano. Photo: Manuel Harlan.

How do you begin to approach a character like Tamate?

When you perform in a show, I think you need to heighten your energy to a certain level to be able to focus. However, to play Tamate I really require some stillness, steady breathing and to ground myself before appearing on stage to keep holding her dignity.

The Menier Chocolate Factory’s revival steers from the Kabuki theatre style of the 1976 version. How does this version maintain the charm in its own way?

I think this production shows real humans and how an audience can feel closer to the characters. The beautiful set designs and costumes can be enjoyed, in the intimate space of The Menier Chocolate Factory, which creates a great atmosphere.

You’ve performed at theatres with seating capacities of well over a 1000. At such an intimate venue like the Menier Chocolate Factory, how has this aided or brought challenges to your carrying of Tamate to an audience?

I do love performing in the intimate space at the Menier Chocolate Factory. However, it requires my energy to really focus and really feel because every detail can be seen, even what I am thinking can be seen. That means I need to fully commit to the choices I make in the space because of being so close with the audience. I enjoy feeling the atmosphere we create together as a company. I can feel the audience are focused, observing and listening to what is happening on stage. I also feel audiences can feel us with all their senses, maybe some people can feel our breathing, too.

The ensemble of Pacific Overtures. Photo: Manuel Harlan/

Stephen Sondheim’s score is vibrant and delightfully whimsical. How has the music enriched your experience on stage?

The song Tamate sings with Kayama, “There Is No Other Way” is so beautiful. How it has been written repetitively gives me a chance to play with different pictures and thought processes each time. The song I sing at the beginning and at the final fight scene was actually written as an instrumental, but Tamate sings that sound in a particular style which has been influenced by traditional Japanese singing. I feel that this song creates a great dramatic atmosphere for the show.

What’s a line from the play, either spoken or in song, that has stuck with you the most, and why?

"Japan, Nippon, The Floating Kingdom”: the first line of the show. This line is my cue to enter the performing space. When I hear this line, I feel the intensity to focus, and it also makes me think of my home. My home is in Shizuoka, where Mount Fuji is. When I look at our moon gate with Mount Fuji’s image there... I always visualise the view I am so familiar with and think of my home and family.

What has been your favourite sequence to perform from this production?

The final sword fight scene. I sing when Kayama and Manjiro fight for the first and last time. I love the silence at the end.

What’s music, movies, TV shows or books have you been enjoying the most at the moment and why?

I have not watched TV shows or movies for a while as I do not choose to make enough time for them at the moment... But I watched a show called “Manic Street Creature” at Southwark Playhouse around the time when Pacific Overtures rehearsals started last year. The performance by Maimuna Memon really touched me. I loved the atmosphere they created and they were all phenomenal performers. It was a very moving subject about mental health.

Music wise, it always depends on my mood. When I need to focus or I am travelling I tend to listen to Binaural Frequencies. I am enjoying reading a book called “If Trees Could Talk” by Holly Worton and have also started “The Body Keeps The Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk. I admire and enjoy being in the nature, greeting wonderful trees so when I have a chance I like to get out and go to parks and woods nearby.

If you could speak to your younger self now, what would you tell them?

Never doubt your ability. There are so many possibilities, and you can always change how you approach things when they might not work out. Always keep on believing and going for what makes you feel joy and excitement. Trust yourself and take care of yourself first.

Pacific Overtures runs until the 25th of Feburary 2024. More info can be found here.
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