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A CurtainUp London Review
After the sell-out success of The Bee two years ago, the collaborating team of pre-eminent Japanese director Hideki Noda and Irish playwright-translator Colin Teevan have again worked together to bring us The Diver. Employing techniques from Noh Theatre, they interweave stories from the eleventh century Japanese novel Tales of Genji with a real-life modern-day crime transcript. Thus, they reveal a common ancestry or continuity of human experiences, motivations and relationships across centuries.
The play is set in a police station during the aftermath of a crime, the atrocity of which has caught the public's imagination: two children have been killed in a house fire, apparently deliberately, and a woman (Kathryn Hunter) is found wandering the streets with a burnt hand but no recollection of who she is. The police are keen to convict and satisfy a public hungry for vindictive justice, but cannot do so unless their culprit is declared sane. As a psychiatrist tries to unlock the woman's past, her shifting sense of identity retells her story using paradigms from mythical stories. In a world where male desire is all-important, women are categorised only in relation to the men ("mother, geisha or whore") and angry demonic spirits or Hannyas wreak havoc as characters destroy and self-destruct.
With stylization which is at once simple and vivid, The Diver enjoys the evocative clarity of Noh theatre. Suggestive rather than over-stated, ur is like a piece of visual poetry and uses physicality rather than realistic props or effects. Therefore, characters move around onstage as if dived underwater and their wounds are portrayed by a streaming red ribbon. Reflecting the hybrid between modernity and the past, fans are used as a running prop, to represent objects as diverse as remote controls, slices of pieces and mobile phones.
The set, designed by Catherine Chapman, is a decayed, grey-washed institutional room which looks like it has suffered from a flood or a fire. Sliding panels of Japanese screens with peeling corners roll back to uncover doorways and a bright gold, moth-eaten moon, while harsh strip lighting breaks through the ceiling. Reflective and eerie, the design masterfully conveys a sense of the dual timeless and contemporary layers which the play deals with.
Kathryn Hunter is naturalistic and impressively versatile in the multiple roles of a personality split by trauma into numerous figures. Scene by scene, she metamorphoses into new characters from ancient history, all of whom emotionally represent a segment of her real life story. Director, writer and actor Hideki Noda adds quiet charisma to the stage with his warmth and patient sympathy as the psychiatrist and his smugness as the self-satisfied wife of Genji.
The Diver transposes widely-differing but parallelistic storylines with vivid immediacy and a prismatic, beguiling quality. With a strong sense of journey, the audience are drawn into the play's inexorable progress towards clarity, sympathy and devastating judgement.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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