The Italian Restaurant is an existential tale telling of a chance meeting between a woman and a man in a restaurant and the forging of their destinies as their hearts become entwined. Provocative symbolism and metaphor creates the tranquil yet chaotic forward momentum for the story, forcing the audience to interpret the unique performance and choreography. Rather than using traditional Western theatre techniques, the story is presented as a production of Noh theatre, by master Naohiko Umewaka.

Traditional Japanese Noh theatre derives from the 14th century and takes its name from the Sino-Japanese word for “skill” or “talent”. In its traditional form, Noh theatre is based on tales from traditional literature with a supernatural being transformed into human form as a hero narrating a story. It uses masks, costumes and various props in a dance based performance, requiring highly trained actors and musicians. Emotions are primarily conveyed by stylized conventional gestures while the iconic masks represent the roles such as ghosts, women, children, and old people. Written in ancient Japanese language, the text “vividly describes the ordinary people of the twelfth to sixteenth centuries”. Having a strong emphasis on tradition rather than innovation, Noh is extremely codified and regulated by the iemoto system – referring to the founder or current Grand Master of a certain school of traditional Japanese art, characterized by a hierarchical structure and the supreme authority of the iemoto, who has inherited the secret traditions of the school from the previous iemoto.

Such an antiquated mode of storytelling would appear unable to take on a contemporary form. However, the stellar production team and cast of The Italian Restaurant succeed in transplanting this ancient theatrical style into the modern day. Naohiko Umewaka, considered the grandmaster of Noh theatre, teams up with Malaysia’s very own innovative choreographer Aida Redza, known for her eclectic fusion style of dance. Penang’s own Chee Sek Thim, along with Hardy Shafii and Mislina, joins the ensemble and is renowned for his contribution to Malaysia’s contemporary dance culture through his organisation Reka Art Space, founded in 2002, based in George Town.

Dates and Times: 26th August, 3pm and 8:30pm, and 27th August, 8:30pm

Address: Loft 29, 29, Gat Lebuh Gereja, George Town, Penang


Ticket prices are RM25, RM65, RM75, and are available from the George Town festival Office on Armenian Street, or at