Miss Tanaka

Premiere 21 February, 2001
Venue Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse

Miss Tanaka Handspan/Playbox production - man crawls towards large lifelike turtle puppet

Miss Tanaka: "Sunset a giant turtle hauls itself across the sand"
Mr Tanaka (Tam Pham), with Turtle. (Puppeteer, Heather Monk).
Photograph © Jeff Busby, 2001

Romeril's enthusiasm for exploring Australia's nexus with the Asian region is boundless and beautiful.
The Bulletin

Miss Tanaka Handspan/Playbox painting of a girl in traditional Japanese dress holding a turtle on a beach with printed show credits below

Miss Tanaka program cover
Click image to enlarge

MISS TANAKA was written by John Romeril whose interest in and experience of Asian-Australian cross cultural relationships has created many theatrical works on the subject since his early, and now classic play, The Floating World (1974)

John was experienced in writing puppetry-based works, including Handspan Theatre's successful production for young audiences The Reading Boy (1991), and the original concept was for MISS TANAKA to be a puppetry-based work. The idea for the play was proposed by Noriko Nishimoto from Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in Western Australia and when the work was eventually taken on by Handspan and Playbox, Noriko joined the Melbourne-based creative team.

The Play

The co-production was directed by David Bell, Artistic Director at Handspan with Puppetry Consultant, Noriko Nishimoto, Designer, Greg Clarke and Composer, Darrin Verhagen for a season at the CUB Malthouse (Playbox's home) followed by a season the Optus Playhouse at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Melbourne in 2001.

Based on a story by Xavier Herbert of the brawl between rival pearl fishers, one Japanese and one Malay, the play is set in Broome in north-western Australia in 1939. Miss Tanaka is beautiful and mysterious and both pearlers fall in love with her in a folk tale of mistaken identity.

The opening scene was described:

Sunset. A giant turtle hauls itself across the sand. The sound of Fred Astaire floats across the water. A old man plays poker with two frogs. Giant pearls and fleets of boats appear out of thin air. Didgeridoo and Japanese drumming whips up a storm of spirits, dragons, cockfights and sumo. Welcome to Australia's own Wild West

Handspan Visual Theatre Business Plan 2001, Company archives.

The cast of Malay, Japanese, Aboriginal and Anglo-Australian performers were actors, dancers and puppeeters, accompanied by Taiko drumming musicians.

Miss Tanaka Handspan/Playbox 4 people dancing with walking sticks and hats

Sakamoto (Yumi Umiumare) and Hanif (Tony Yap)

Miss Tanaka Handspan/Playbox 2 people, one in white suit, the other in white kimono, having an intense discussion

Mott (Jeremy Stanford) and Kazuhiko (Bradley Byquar)

Miss Tanaka Handspan/Playbox One man stands centre-stage with taiko drummers to left and right of him

Taiko drummers: Fr L: Toshi Sakamoto, Tam Pham and Junko Sakamoto

Miss Tanaka Handspan/Playbox 3 men arguing

FR L: Hanif (Tony Tap), Mr Tanaka, (Tam Pham) and Sakamoto (Yumi Umiumare)
Photographs © Jeff Busby, 2001
Click photos to enlarge

MISS TANAKA was the last new work produced by Handspan.

Scroll back to Click Tab: The People & The Performances

Creative team
Original concept Noriko Nishimoto
Writer John Romeril
Script consultant David Bell
Dramaturg Louise Gough
Director David Bell
Composer Darrin Verhagen
Puppetry consultant Noriko Nishimoto
Designer Greg Clarke
Puppet designer Rob Matson
Lighting designer David Walters
Costume designer Greg Clarke
Choreographer Andris Toppe
Kazuhiko Bradley Byquar
Mr Tanaka Tam Phan
Mott Jeremy Stanford
Hanif Tony Yap
Sakamoto Yumi Umiumare
Puppeteers Megan Cameron
Heather Monk
Musicians Junko Sakamoto
Toshi Sakamoto
Production team
Stage manager Natasha Marich
February - March 2001 CUB Malthouse, Melbourne (Previews (X 3) & Performances (x 21))
March 2001 Optus Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane (10 performances)
Total performances 34
Total audience Unknown

Scroll back to Click Tab: The Production