Following a successful debut at Soho Theatre in 2006, Hideki Noda and Colin Teevan’s The Bee now returns to kick off the start of its international tour.
Based on a short story by Yasutaka Tsutsui, it tells the story of Mr Ido, a successful ‘salary-man’ who arrives home one day to discover that his wife and son have been taken prisoner by an escaped convict. As his frustrations grow in the face of police bureaucracy and media sensationalism, Ido unleashes his own perverted justice by himself taking the wife and son of the hostage-taker captive.
Set on a thrust stage, The Bee is an uncomfortably intimate experience with a skilfully conceived design to match. Throughout the performance, a reflective backdrop by turn aggressively confronts the audience with their own moral character, and reveals the suffocating machina of authority clamouring at the entrances to the apartment and baying for ‘the truth’ – a truth they are trying to construct.
The central conceit of the opposition between Ido and the convict, Ogoro, forms the crux of the play’s satirical attack on the concepts of moral authority and innate virtue. As the action bolts forward, each man begins to resemble the other and the question of who is the criminal and who the victim becomes increasingly blurred.
These absurdist elements are played out to great effect in a tightly constructed production, where action and dialogue have been devised so that each character mirrors the other and gradually comes to question his own identity and limits. Kathryn Hunter’s much-lauded turn as Ido adds a further dimension to this, although the secondary function of underscoring The Bee’s concern with misogyny gets somewhat lost within that of being a ‘good citizen’.
Shot through with black humour, the pace, energy and repetition of this play are pleasingly reminiscent of Beckett whilst retaining distinctly Japanese dramatic elements. Unfortunately, this is an energy the production fails to maintain at two key points, firstly when Ido becomes so incensed that he stages his own kidnap, and later in his closing speech of the denouement.
This leaves something wanting, but only slightly detracts from what is otherwise a fascinating piece of cross-cultural drama, insightfully deconstructing the moral signifiers we so often blindly accept without reflection.