Festive Mime & Magic

Festive Mime & Magic

The Club’s Family Christmas Show returns for the first time since 2019—with a cast of captivating, charming and chuckle-inducing characters.

"No end of year is complete,” legendary actor Sir Ian McKellen once said, “without going to see a pantomime.”

Colorful characters, costumes and laughter are a hallmark of these family plays staged during the Christmas and New Year season. The British tradition takes center stage this month with the return of the Family Christmas Show for the first time since 2019, and the headline act couldn’t be more appropriate: Japan’s celebrated comedy pantomime duo Gabez.

If you watched the opening ceremony of the pandemic-delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics last year, you would have seen Gabez in action. In one of the highlights of the spectacle, Gabez pantomimed 50 Olympic disciplines from 41 sports while dressed as the official sporting pictograms, the Games’ famous stick figure-style icons.

The four-and-a-half-minute performance was memorably innovative and fun. Three artists, decked out in white and blue, struck a pose—often using ingeniously placed props—for each sporting discipline in a piece of seamless, quick-fire theater. And they did it all live before a global audience of millions.

2017 Family Christmas Show

“It took months to prepare in secret, and we didn’t even know if the Olympics would really be held,” says Masatomi Yoshida, one half of Gabez. “Meanwhile, if we got coronavirus, we would be out, so the pressure was intense.”

Yoshida and his performance partner, Hitoshi Ono, who hail from Akita and Shizuoka prefectures, respectively, formed the beginnings of Gabez in 2007 after meeting in acting school. To hone their stage skills, they tried their hand at street performance in places like Yoyogi Park. They found it surprisingly appealing and began a pantomime comedy act, in part to overcome the challenge of being heard in an outdoor setting. Their interest in different forms of dance added a high-energy, physical aspect to their skits.

The pair settled on the name Gabez, a rendering of the English word “garbage,” after seeing an inspiring play about a group of down-and-outs discarded by society. The name also reflected their approach of recycling or reworking comedy material.

Yoshida and Ono say they draw on a host of inspirational figures, from Japanese musical comedy outfit The Drifters and clown acts to Charlie Chaplin movies and even Tom and Jerry cartoons (Yoshida says he’s Tom the cat to Ono’s Jerry the mouse). One lasting influence has been Gamarjobat, an internationally renowned Japanese mime twosome, famous for their trademark black suits and colorful mohawks.

Gamarjobat’s Hiro-pon and Ketch not only mentored Yoshida and Ono in mime, they also introduced them to organizers on the international arts festival circuit. Gabez eventually signed with established Japanese entertainment agency Yoshimoto Kogyo. Since 2014, they have been performing across Japan, with regular shows at Yoshimoto Mugendai Hall in Shibuya, and overseas. Their success, they say, is down to sticking to the fundamentals of comedy.

“There are different ways of performing as a clown, such as speaking or not speaking,” says Yoshida. “We want to capture that clownish ability to draw people into an audience and to open their hearts by communicating through a heartwarming, fun performance.”

2018 Family Christmas Show

In their own live performances and videos, they employ a mix of slapstick, dance, magic and pantomime. In one how-to video, they present a contemporary spin on a mime classic. To the beat of a pop tune, a strolling Ono bumps into an invisible wall. He summons Pantomime Man, and Yoshida appears in a green bodysuit and mask. He tells Ono to “see” the wall by looking with his heart and using the power of his imagination. When Ono is finally able to feel his way along the wall and open an invisible door, Yoshida declares that they can surmount any wall.

Set to perform at this month’s Family Christmas Show, the Gabez boys will, no doubt, enchant Club audiences with their distinctive brand of entertainment and fun.

“We’re delighted to have the opportunity to perform at such an illustrious venue as Tokyo American Club,” says Yoshida. “As it will be the first Christmas event in three years, we’re especially looking forward to putting on a special show for Club Members and their children. That’s what Christmas is all about.”

The return of the Family Christmas Show this year is particularly significant for the organizers. Their work to relaunch the event reflects the importance of childhood memories and spreading seasonal cheer.

Professional magician Steve Marshall has been producing Christmas shows for the Club for 10 years. With three decades of entertainment experience under his belt, including performances at Disney theme parks in Japan and the United States, he has brought a wide selection of acts to the Club over the years.

“Everyone loves performing at the Club, and I love being able to bring these wonderful entertainers together for these Christmas extravaganzas,” says Marshall, who will be flying to Japan from Bermuda, where he performs on cruise ships, to host the show. “I am planning some surprises this year involving a big green guy who stole Christmas once—and attempted to steal it again over the last few years—but, trust me, we are going to get it back in a big way.”

Matthew Tappenden, a member of the Club’s Culture, Community & Entertainment Committee overseeing the event, was determined to reintroduce the show after a three-year hiatus.

2019 Family Christmas Show

“Coming from England, the traditional family Christmas pantomime, or panto, is a must-see event—especially for families with young children,” he says. “Like the Club itself, pantos are a great way to bring people together. My family and I would go every year when we had the opportunity, and I have fond memories of attending them in the UK with my grandparents when I was young. I think it’s just one of those lovely ways to create family memories at Christmastime.”

Aside from Gabez, this year’s show features the musical act Storm, comic Randy Brake and, in her Club debut, Marshall’s daughter, Claire, a singer and actor. Marshall, who wrote the show, will perform magic tricks and narrate the story.

“It’s a time to gather together and celebrate all we have done in the past year and look forward to a bright new year ahead,” says Marshall. “I understand that the Club has Members from all different nationalities and cultures. I want to create something that will entertain them all and affect them on an emotional level since, no matter where we come from, we all want the best for our family and friends.”

Family Christmas Show
December 10 & 11

Words: Tim Hornyak
Images: Ken Katsurayama
Top image of Masatomi Yoshida and Hitoshi Ono of Gabez with Steve Marshall: Yuuki Ide
December 2022