There’s a fair amount to digest in the latest production to take up residence at the Bussey Building. Combining ancient deities, musings from a lady at court, Zazen Buddhism and a rather modern relationship to draw parallels between the Heian period in Japan and England in the 2013, is a tall order. Ideas are aplenty, but unfortunately any clarity is submerged beneath them, creating a tombola-like production that lies in a state of confusion.
The Fudo-My-O statue, (a deity from the Heian period), has found its way to the UK. With the question of ownership crossing decades, as well as oceans, a diplomatic row is sparked between the British Museum and the Japanese Minister for Culture. Covering the story is reporter Alisha Pinkleton, who undergoes a journey of a different kind. Following a fortuitous interview with socialite Su Cameron, her career takes flight, whilst her relationship falters. These events are interrupted by excerpts from the Pillow Book, a collection of musings from Sei Sonaghon, a lady at court during the Heian period. And if that’s not enough there’s an added dose of Zazen Buddhism tossed into the mix.
Written by Nicole Vardon and Tony Gardner, the play is an ambitious attempt to demonstrate how humanity is “connected in the wheel of existence". Occasionally the play succeeds, as events surrounding the statue appear to come full circle. But Shonagon manages to elude the very concept that it endeavours to address – enlightenment. It suffers from thrusting together too many elements, becoming far too complex to grasp at any particular strand. Undoubtedly, there's spirit, but it's crying out to be harnessed into something more palpable.
Performances by the eight-member cast are flighty and dialogue remains predominantly flat throughout. There are however, minute shoots of promise. Miles Fisher's lighting and Joshua Trepte's sound proffer a much needed professional hue to the production.
Shonagon remains a project in a state of development that requires sharper direction. Sadly, it’s a production that will leave the mind boggling, rather than in a state of meditation.