This is a rare chance to see two short plays by the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, one of the greatest exponents of Japanese literature (recently represented in the West End with Madame de Sade), whose turbulent life led him to commit harakiri at the age of forty-five. Both plays are infused with a strong sense of loneliness, and the pursuit and possession of love.
The plays' themes are uniquely summed up in the subheading of the programme notes - “Love, Madness, Blindness, A Fan and One Maple Leaf ...” - Mishima’s characters become tragic heroes/heroines trapped inside their own desires. These plays, derived from traditional tales and the stylistics of Noh and Kabuki theatre, explore universal issues in a contemporary setting using a translation that allows the rhythms of the piece to remain Japanese in essence.
Wai Yin Kwok's inspirational open-plan set, with its raised central area of 12 large low-cushioned tiles, serves for both the interior of the house in the first piece and the courtyard of the second, after the central tiles are removed to reveal a pond. The maple leaf is a crucial symbol, and the surrounding areas of the stage are scattered with them in Autumn colours. In the first piece four panels at the back serve as a screen onto which is projected a tree whose leaves fall during the performance leaving only two at the end, reflecting the resolution of the piece whilst in the second a single leaf becomes a symbol for death.
Hanjo is a tale with a twist that fails at first to engage due to its inconsistency in performance style which has the actors moving around as if programmed and being melodramatic when the mood of the piece is actually very intense, with buried emotions being the key; only when the soldier arrives, the young man for whom the ex geisha waits daily at a station, does the piece develop the necessary emotional intensity of this sad tale and reveal the true artistry of these talented young actors.
Hell Screen in contrast is a fast paced, tightly directed, beautifully choreographed tragi-comic tale, with well honed performances all round, from the comic pathos of Stuart Brown's love lorn rejected servant to Yuka Yo-Ri Yamanaka's emotional engaging lady in waiting, to Rufus Brown's obsessive hell bent artist and Seamus Newham's powerful and commanding Lord Horikawa.
StoneCrabs Theatre are to be congratulated for a challenging and informative evening combining the talents of both British and Japanese artists.
- Dave Jordan