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A Thousand Cranes Theatre Company

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From West to East from East to West,
A Thousand Cranes creates visual, vibrant, inventive theatre for young audiences inspired by stories and traditions from Japan and the UK.
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A Thousand Cranes was founded by performer Kumiko Mendl and director and writer Vicky Ireland in 2006 to creatively diversify UK Children’s touring theatre, bringing the extraordinary and fascinating stories, traditions, art forms and artists of Japan to young audiences.

Our first show, “Tales from Old Japan”, was developed for “Asobi!” a Japanese family event at artsdepot. Hugely successful, we continue to perform it in repertoire.

We have since created 6 productions each having 2 or 3 tours, together with workshops performing over 280 shows across 96 different venues in the UK and at International Festivals across the world to over 20,000 children and their families.

In October 2009 we were made an Artistic Associate of artsdepot.



Current shows

A Thousand Cranes is building a seasonal repertoire of Kamishibai shows for children. Watch this space for more to come!
Kamishibai  紙芝居

Available for booking!

Kamishibai Theatre originates from a form of traditional Japanese street theatre using picture cards to tell stories. A Thousand Cranes have adapted this form to create a unique performance style. Blending words, pictures, and imagination this is a unique and charming theatrical experience for ages 3 years + their families.


The Great Race -  tells the story of how the Jade Emperor chose the animals that make up the Eastern Zodiac.  Follow the adventures of twelve plucky animals as they set out to cross a mighty river, scale a towering mountain, and win a place in history.

Perfect for New Year, Winter and early Spring time. 


Milky Way - Based on the Japanese legend of Tanabata, this beautiful tale of friendship set amongst the stars is retold using traditional Kamishibai. Perfect for Summer time. 


All Kamishibai shows involve one storyteller. Duration 20 mins with up to 3 shows in a day. 


Tales from Old Japan

“Mountains are just like people – they have secrets, mysteries and stories to tell”

Come and hear enchanting, bewitching and hair-raising stories of magnificent Mount Iwate who blew hot and cold, the humble woodcutter and his beautiful but strange bride and the snorting, burping Ogre of Rashomon Gate.
These three delightful traditional Japanese tales are brought to life through inventive storytelling, puppetry and music.

This show involves one storyteller. Duration 45 mins with up to 2 shows in a day. 

A-Un (阿吽)

A-Un no Kokyu(阿吽の呼吸)is a term to describe the perfect balance and supreme harmony between two people. 


Come and watch a beautifully choreographed piece of dance and martial arts with original music and live taiko drumming.

This shows involves two performers.

Duration 10 mins with up to 4 shows in a day.

Past shows



Please get in touch if you are having a “Japanese Day” at your school or exploring different cultures and we will happily tailor a workshop to suit your needs.

Here are some workshops we currently offer!

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Origami workshop

Try your hand at origami animals, samurai hats and fun-to-assemble boxes.   

Be creative and enjoy the beautiful art of paper folding.

Let's do Manga!

Have you ever drawn Manga? Do you know what Manga is? In our workshop, you will learn how to draw yourself "manga style".

Suitable for children aged 6+. Children must be supervised by their parents/carers or teachers. 

Bon Dance, dance, dance!

Have a go at the simple and easy-to-learn Bon dance! All you need is music and space! 

Suitable for children aged 3+ and their parents/carers or teachers.

How to be a ninja!

Learn how to walk, run and behave like a ninja warrior! 

Suitable for children aged 6+.

Shall we sing?

Learn a simple Japanese song! This workshop is a great follow-up for our Kamishibai shows. 

Suitable for children aged 6+.


Meet the team

Artistic Directors


Kumiko Mendl

Kumiko trained at the Jacques Lecoq Theatre School in Paris and has worked in the theatre industry for over thirty years as an actor, director, producer and teacher. She is a founder member and former Artistic Director of New Earth Theatre (formerly Yellow Earth Theatre) the UK’s foremost British East and South East Asian (BESEA) Theatre company


For New Earth she established a two year Professional Writers’ Programme to make a step change in British East and Southeast Asian (BESEA) writing and was instrumental in setting up the company’s flagship programme; New Earth Academy; the first of its kind to offer free courses for performance, writing and backstage roles specifically to redress the underrepresentation of BESEA’s in the arts. The company now has academies running annually in four cities supported by over 17 partner venues and organisations with over 400+ alumni.


She conceived and led on a multi-year project; Tsunagu-Connect (2022), uncovering the lives of Japanese women in the UK culminating in a Performance-Exhibition at Shoreditch Town Hall and the exhibition has been mostly recently seen at the Barbican to coincide with the run of My Neighbour Totoro.


She has continued to freelance throughout her 30 years in theatre and acted at the National Theatre, Northampton Royal, The Gate, Young Vic, Polka Theatre, Tara Arts, and LIFT as well as run numerous outreach and participatory projects for Museums & Heritage organisations, schools, colleges and arts organisations.


She is a Clore leader and acting Chair of Curious Directive, a trustee of True Heart Theatre and board advisor to the David Glass Ensemble. 


Haruka Kuroda

Haruka Kuroda is a U.K. based Japanese actress, voice-over artist,

fight director and intimacy professional. 

Since graduating from Guildford School of Acting over two decades ago, she has embarked on a successful career in Theatre, TV & Film. 

Her most recent credits include: the RSC production of My Neighbour Totoro (Barbican), Amaterasu-Out of Cave (Arcola tent), Wit (Manchester Royal Exchange), Better Things (FX), Lovely Little Farm (Apple TV), EastEnders (BBC), Killing Eve (BBC America), Life (Colombia Pictures) and London Road (National Theatre & BBC Film).


As a certified fight director and intimacy professional, Haruka has recently worked on Untitled: F*ck M*ss S**gon Play (Manchester Royal Exchange), Miss Saigon (Sheffield Crucible), Titus Andronicus (the Globe), Starcrossed (Wilton Music Hall), The Comedy of Errors (Mercury Theatre), The Woods (Southwark Playhouse), All My Sons (Queens Theatre Hornchurch), Silent Witness, Strike: Troubled Blood, Sherwood, Life After Life (All for BBC). 

Haruka is also a highly sought after voice over artist and her voice can be heard in various high profile video games, radio plays and international commercials. 

Associate Director


Vicky Ireland MBE

Vicky trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama and then worked as an actress in TIE and repertory theatres all over Britain. She presented BBC’s TV’s Words and Pictures for twelve years. From 1989 to 2002 she was Artistic Director of Polka Theatre for Children, London and is now a freelance director and writer.

In 2001, Vicky was a guest of the Japan Foundation and ASSITEJ Japan to study  Children’s Theatre and primary education in Tokyo and Osaka.

She was awarded an MBE in 2002 for services to children’s drama, the first of its kind; made an Honorary Member of ASSITEJ (the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People) and a fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts in 2014.

Current positions, Ambassador and Trustee of the charity Action for Children’s Arts, a Patron of Polka Theatre, Board member of Savvy Theatre and Honorary Board member of IIAN, the International Inclusive Arts network.

In July 2021 she stepped down as Co Artistic Director but continues to work with the company as Associate Director and mentoring the next generation of writers and directors.

Associate Artists


Julian Butler

Julian is a freelance composer/lyricist/sound designer and specialises in writing for children's theatre. He has  written music and lyrics for many shows, agencies, companies etc.

He also runs Gig Night for Wimbledon Bookfest with John Kennedy, an annual showcase for young musicians and is also a judge on the annual Wimbledon BookFest Young Writers' Competition.
He is  represented in North America by Plays for Young Audiences. In 2016, he was very pleased to get an award for his Contribution to Children's Theatre at the JM Barrie Awards in London's BBC Radio Theatre, presented by Sir Michael Morpurgo. 


Norifumi Hida

Norifumi is a practitioner and researcher of theatre for young audiences, drama education, and applied theatre.

He studied for his MFA in Theatre Directing at East 15 Acting School, the University of Essex, and his PhD in Arts Education at the University of Warwick. After completing his PhD, he was a Research Associate to the MA in Theatre for Young Audiences at Rose Bruford College. In 2015, he moved to Japan and has been teaching theatre, communication skills or EFL (English as a foreign language) at different universities.

He is on the Editorial Board of ‘ArtsPraxis’ at New York University in the U.S.A; a Board Member of the Association for Language and Cultural Education; a Board Member of the International Theatre for Young Audiences Research Network, ASSITEJ and a Board Member of MIRAI Festival (2021 International Performing Arts Festival for Children and Young People in Japan).



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