Tag Archives: Duncan Bett

Tokyo Notes, by Oriza Hirata, translated by Cody Poulton, (in association with Chapter STIWDIO and the Japan Foundation, London.

Performances

Chapter, Cardiff, Fri 8 Feb 2008, 8pm, Free

The Japan Foundation, London, Sat 9 Feb 2008, 2.30, Free

Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea, Wed 13 Feb 2008, 7.30pm, Free

The Riverfront, Newport, Thurs 14 Feb 2008, 7.45pm, Free

Parc and Dare Theatre, Treorchy, Fri 15 Feb 2008, 7.30, Free

Cast

Ikue/ Wakita – Alex Alderton

Shigeo/Ishida/Hashizume – Duncan Bett

Hirayama/Teranishi/Sudo/Nosaka – Carys Eleri

Minakami/Tokiko – Sharon Morgan

Shinya/Kushimoto/Saito – John Rowley

Yuji/Kinoshita – Nathan Sussex

Mitsuhashi – Bethan Thomas

Ono – James Tyson

Yumi – Rebecca Woodford- Smith

Yoshie – Anushiye Yarnell

Director

James Tyson

Review

Oriza Hirata may not be a name you’re likely to recognise, even if you’re an avid theatregoer, not least because of our woeful ignorance of what’s happening on the stage outside the UK. Hirata is one of the leading Japanese playwrights and directors and his Seinendan Company will be in Cardiff next month with one of his classics, From S Plateau, launching a season that will do something to redress the absence of non-European theatre in Wales as Chapter (inevitably) hosts eight months of Wales-Japan exchanges. And as an appetiser we have a rehearsed reading of Tokyo Notes, a Hirata play that may well be based on the 1953 classic Tokyo Story (which movie buffs recognise as one of the best films ever made) but which is strangely in synch with much contemporary European theatre.

Hirata takes the family from Ozu’s film, a disparate bunch who rarely meet, and mixes them with visitors to a Vermeer exhibition to create a series of snapshots where nothing really happens. The time is in some ways ambiguous (especially since a rehearsed reading features actors in their everyday clothes rather than costumes that might offer clues), set during a future time when Europe is at war, though we infer from an internal reference that the year is 2004, ten years after the play was written. But this co-production between Chapter Stiwdio and the Japan Foundation with On The Edge is very much a “reading” in several senses as director James Tyson offers a confusing take on the original – a deconstruction of a deconstruction, as it were.

He takes the rehearsed-reading convention of a line of chairs and performers taking on multiple roles and has his cast of ten handling twenty parts, with two characters being played by two different actors – still with me ? If it weren’t for the brief programme notes, I might have been hopelessly lost… and I know a lot of the audience didn’t even realise that all but three of the cast played up to four different people.

Tyson has assembled a motley crew for this complex version, from the very experienced Sharon Morgan to the dancer-performance artist Anushiye Yarnell, and any idea that this might be an ensemble piece is shattered pretty early on, with a whole range of acting styles jostling against each other. Ms Morgan and Alex Alderton, for example, play their roles very naturalistically, Ms Yarnell and Rebecca Woodford-Smith are disconcertingly flat, John Rowley turns odd moments almost into Forced Entertainment scenes, Tyson himself elects to speak as the only Japanese-accented character and the underrated Nathan Sussex tries to anchor it all with a suitably Pinteresque impassivity. Tyson, faced with the challenge of differentiating the different characters, offers us a suitably Japanese system by playing it as a kind of board game where each character has their own seat. The comings and goings, as they move from a huddle at the back of the stage to the row of chairs at the front, and then even scoot from chair to chair to assume their roles, is mildly fascinating but doesn’t really solve the problem – we’re still unnecessarily flummoxed as to what’s happening and who is who.

For me Tyson’s direction obscured what seems to be an intriguing and intelligent play, with its non-ideological meditation on Japan’s role in the world, its setting of a Dutch masters exhibition offering, through the metaphors of the domestic genre, technique and use of the camera obscura, ideas about light and dark and reality. It may seem difficult but in many ways this “quiet theatre” study of relationships, of duties and responsibilities, while devoid of recognisable dramatic devices, is just what postmodern, post-drama theatre is doing in Europe.

David Adams

 

More Lives Than One by Mark Jenkins

Performance

Chapter, Cardiff , Tues 5 Oct 2004, £3 on the door

Cast

Robert Marrable

Michael Kelligan

Claire Desmond

Clare Isaac

Roisin Clancy- Davis

Duncan Bett

Tony Leader

Director

Michael Kelligan

Review

The evening was billed as a celebration – excerpts from the plays of Mark Jenkins and the launch of his new collection – but one suspects the enthusiastic audience gathered at Chapter was there to celebrate more than a new publication.For this was the first opportunity to congratulate the playwright on his Edinburgh Festival Fringe First Award and, perhaps, to celebrate the arrival of a Welsh-based writer with established credentials – though it’s taken Jenkins twenty years to “arrive”, with half-a-dozen professional productions to his name.

The award was for Rosebud, his fascinating and uncannily credible portrayal of Orson Welles, and the performance here finished with the author himself reading part of the monologue, reminding us, too, that he’s probably best known for another one-man drama, Playing Burton, currently in LA and due to get another Welsh outing at the Millennium Centre in December.

But this event concentrated on less-known works and, as with other performances in this series of rehearsed readings, held out the prospect of a rare overview of the oeuvre of this neglected Welsh success – and maybe a hint as to why and how an ex-communist academic became a much-lauded playwright who is still snubbed in Wales.

Mr Owen’s Millennium, Norah’s Bloke, Birthmarks and Downtown Paradise (the four plays in Parthian’s More Lives Than One collection) do not, in fact, tell us much about the enigmatic Mr Jenkins, except that he can be passionate about what he sees as real socialism, cynical about politic theorists, aware of his London-Irish-Welsh upbringing, fascinated by larger-than-life characters. But of the real Mark Jenkins we discover little and he remains one of those playwrights whose creations have their own dramatic life and are not agents of their author’s own agendas… or so we are led to believe.

Excerpts, of course, do not give much indication of the complete plays, especially when the performances are of such varied quality as here, but what they do offer is a taste of Jenkins’s skills in sketching out characters, his manipulation of them to make debate, his erudition and also his empathy.

For Jenkins does tend to write about real-lifer individuals – Norah’s Bloke, his latest play, is the only one that is about a social situation and while the scenes we had here were well-done and effective, it’s not his best play as a whole, perhaps because it is autobiographical and lacks the toughness of the others.

It does show him as a more mature artist, though, less concerned with rewriting history or trying to get under the skin of famous people – Robert Owen, Marx and Engels, Strinberg, Burton and Welles, all of whom have had a Jenkins makeover to their benefit or detriment.

So why isn’t he revered in his home country ? His tribute to the pioneer of cooperativism and socialism, Mr Owen’s Millennium, is the only Welsh-based play (though his study of Richard Burton obviously has Welsh connotations), but perhaps it’s too uncritically adulatory – more obviously the work of someone deeply disillusioned by theory and approving of practical socialism.

No such generosity to Marx and Engels (in Birthmarks) or to a Black Power activist and his besotted solicitor (in Downtown Paradise) – people Jenkins seems to dislike for what he would see as their lack of human concern, with the implication that all hard-line idealists are not only insensitive but corrupt.

Jenkins in these political biographies writes in a kind of David Hare mould but on a minimalist scale: he criticises dogmatism through the study of individuals rather than the bigger picture. One suspects he is also fascinated by big names and is not too humble or afraid to presume to rewrite their lives from the selective perspective that gives him enormous control over their arguments.

It’s that uncomfortable, unfashionably revisionist analysis of heroic icons of ideology and culture that must make many approach Mark Jenkins with caution – but it’s also what makes his work often irresistibly fascinating, even when presented in frustratingly bite-sized portions.

 David Adams