Tokyo Fugue and the Universal Language of the Body

You are on a train. You are searching for someone. You fall asleep. In your dream you are on a train. You are searching for someone…

This is a show about feeling lost, set in the maze-like train system of Tokyo. The scenes unfold like the variations of a fugue, in sequences of meticulously crafted movement. With three bodies, three chairs, a collage of English and Japanese text, a lullaby, a fugue and some train sounds, Tokyo Fugue conjures up the dizzying experience of life in a modern metropolis. The audience is left breathless and wondering: what is it, after all, that I am chasing?

At times poetic, at times comical, at times unsettling, this is theatre that speaks to the soul.

On 7 September at Whitley Academy and on 11 September at Holyhead School something very special happened thanks to RSA Fellow, and RSA Japan Connector, Tania Coke.

In their own words, calling it a performance of a lifetime, Freya, Lola and Diakite, Year 8 student reporters at Whitley Academy explain what unfolded:

On Friday 7th September 2018, ‘Tarinainanika’, an international physical theatre company based in Tokyo, Japan, delivered an unusually interesting performance to Whitley Academy pupils that opened our eyes to a whole new world.

For your information, Tarinainanika specialise in the art of ‘Corporeal Mime’. We have to honestly say that at the beginning of the performance we had no idea what ‘Corporeal Mime’ was about! The three performers were Tania Coke, Kentaro Suyama and Toshihiko Nishimura.

The play began at 1:20 pm, and as the bright lights and eerie, traditional Japanese music filled the Auditorium, the space inside our school had been transformed beyond recognition. With the professional lighting, and the stereo sounds from the speakers, we all felt like we’d been transported to the depths of the Tokyo underground.

The performance had no story line, and was open for interpretation with a collage of thoughts, memories and dreams. It wasn’t difficult to visualise some confusion in the audience as the short dialogues from the performers were repeated frequently. Later on in the workshop, we realised the rather in-depth message behind the repetition routine: consciously or unconsciously, we do repeat lots of things in life and it is sometimes easy to feel lost in a sea of different messages we see each day.

The performance’s visuals then showed us the crowded trains of Tokyo, where the tiredness at the end of the working day of passengers was on display, where the struggle to remain conscious and stay calm and get home as fast as they could was transparent. The performance was completely in sync with the vibrant visual display in the background. We were told that the filmography was created by a friend of the artists, who shot the scene in a Tokyo station. The film complimented the chaotic lifestyle of the commuters living and working in Tokyo.

After the play had come to an end, we had a Q&A session with Tania, Kentaro, Toshihiko, Amy (the lighting expert) and Chloe (the audio-visual expert) that allowed our inquisitive minds to pour out our questions and express our views on the performance. We learned a lot of interesting and informative facts that made the performance even better, and filled in the gaps of our curious minds. For example, we were told how the story line of the performance started and how the ideas were formed.

We were told that the message of the performance was open to interpretation, but most of our pupils felt an important message was to find and hold on to something of meaning, or something we love in our lives, especially in amongst a sea of uncertainty and confusion we sometimes feel today.

With the afternoon moving fast and the end of the visit drawing closer, we decided to move on to the workshop. This opportunity gave us the chance to experience ‘Corporeal Mime’ for ourselves, learning the many, many different ways to shake someone’s hand all with different meanings.

Finally it was time for the artists’ interview with the student reporters, with Mr. David Acton (an actor from the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford) who visited our school for the play.

The reflections…

The audience’s opinions varied from person to person, much like the performance’s artists wanted them to.

Lola (12 years old) had this to say: “I thought that it was strangely entertaining in its own special way and seeing it for the first time, my mind was open to every possibility.’

Lucy and Holly (both 14 years old) said “It was very interesting to watch the whole performance without the use of many props. There were times we felt confused with the repetition of the dialogue. But after attending the workshop we found the answer. There were moments we felt very emotional to watch. We personally believe that the play was beautifully performed and the actors really know their timing (which was very needed).”

Kyle (14 years old) said ‘ I had never seen things like this before. It’s amazing to see how your emotion could be expressed that easily; and especially with the use of only THREE chairs. I really, really enjoyed it.’


And at Holyhead School, students had this to say:

“If I’m feeling a certain type of emotion I can show it physically rather than verbally”

“There’s a lot more to drama than talking”

“I discovered that acting isn’t all about words  – it’s through the movement of the body”

“I discovered that I can use different parts of my body to show emotions”

“I discovered that you can do things in so many styles and give off different impressions”

“Your body, eyes and facial expressions can tell a story without you even knowing it”

“I was able to express how I was feeling through the body language and techniques that they showed us”

“I liked the workshop because there were techniques explored that can be used for my Drama performances”


Tokyo Fugue & The Universal Language of the Body
This production is part of a programme of performances and workshops for people of all walks of life, celebrating the universal language of the body. Tarinainanika is on a mission is to raise awareness of the expressive power of the human body, in a society dominated by words and computers. As well as the performances and workshop at The Cockpit, they are presenting Tokyo Fugue in Rijeka (Croatia)  and giving performances and workshops at schools in the West Midlands to inspire the next generation to get physical in their communication.

When I was growing up I had no contact with professional artists – I thought they were a separate breed. It never occurred to me that I could become one. So for me it was very special to be able to share Tokyo Fugue and the art of Corporeal Mime with students at RSA Academies. We were hoping that our performance and workshop would encourage students to search for magic beyond the mainstream, to follow the path of passion wherever it takes you. So I was moved almost to tears to hear feedback from one of the School Reporters at Whitley Academy who said that watching our show made her realise you can make something out of anything. I am now profoundly optimistic about the future of the human race!

Tania Coke, Artistic Director, tarinainanika


With HUGE thanks to Tania Coke, FRSA, Kentaro Suyama and Toshihiko Nishimura for their generosity, for bringing their fabulous theatre to our schools and for inspiring us all.

Thanks to Minh Nguyen and Toni Stokes, teachers at Whitley Academy, and to Charlotte Brandy and Jemma Lewis, teachers at Holyhead School for all their hard work to make this happen.

And special thanks to the Japan Society, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and to the crowdfunding community of Kickstarter who made this magical experience possible.

And finally thanks to Amy Butterworth, Engagement Manager, RSA for her brilliant support to the crowdfunding campaign. If you are an RSA Fellow interested in crowdfunding, please contact Amy.


The RSA Academies are committed to an Arts, Creativity and Cultural Education which includes ‘commissioning professional artists to support and lead high quality learning and participatory experiences’ so we would like to extend an extra special thanks to Tania Coke, FRSA for making this happen.