Queen’s A Night at the Opera inspires Japanese take on Romeo and Juliet

A Night at the Opera, the classic rock album by Queen, has inspired a Japanese theatre production that will visit London this autumn as part of an international tour.

Created by Hideki Noda, A Night at the Kabuki includes songs from the British band’s 1975 album which is best known for its singles Bohemian Rhapsody and You’re My Best Friend. The master tapes from the studio recording of the album are used in the show, which has a storyline set in 12th-century Japan and is inspired by Romeo and Juliet.

Noda said that he had been planning to write about the aftermath of Shakespeare’s tragedy when an associate of the band brought him the idea of expanding on the theatrical aspect of Queen’s album. “I immediately thought it would be interesting to mash it up with the tale of the battle between the Genji and Taira clans,” he said. The Genpei war between the two clans lasted from 1180 to 1185. Against this backdrop, the plot features two pairs of star-crossed lovers and mixes comedy with tragedy. The cast includes Takako Matsu, Takaya Kamikawa, Suzu Hirose and Jun Shison.

A Night at the Kabuki premiered in Japan in 2019. After a run this summer in Tokyo, it will visit Sadler’s Wells in London in September and then be staged in Osaka and Taipei. Its arrival in London was delayed by the pandemic. “People are now returning to theatres,” said Noda. “It’s all about being in the moment. That is what the legend called theatre is all about.”

A playwright, director and actor, Noda has worked extensively in the UK and was made an OBE in 2009. His stylish and arresting productions, known for their physicality, include Red Demon staged at the Young Vic in London in 2003. The Diver, performed at Soho theatre in 2008, left the Guardian’s Michael Billington “intrigued, bemused, startled and fascinated”.

A Night at the Kabuki is, of course, not the first time that the songs of Queen have powered a musical theatre production. We Will Rock You, on which the band collaborated with Ben Elton, ran for 12 years (and more than 4,500 performances) in the West End. Featuring 24 songs by Queen, including Bohemian Rhapsody, it is now on a UK tour.