This week Fiona Lindsay talks about her recent trip to Japan and how plays can resonate in different languages...
For the past two weeks I’ve been pounding the streets of Tokyo by day and sitting in a darkened theatre by night. With a population of over 80 million people it’s easy to get lost in this city and in many ways this is incredibly liberating. I found that being free to roam both physically and imaginatively awakened senses dulled by the routine of my UK commuter life and enabled me to soak up sounds, smells, and sights that were completely new.
There is a great deal of display given to the everyday in Tokyo, with ancient ritual and etiquette permeating most communication and exchange. There’s very little signage, information, or instruction in any language other than Japanese and feeling out of sync with yourself is caused by so much more than the 12-hour flight-induced jet lag.
The prospect of the safe and familiar haven of a theatre auditorium anchored me but what I actually experienced inside brought on a sea change in my thinking about how to create a great theatre production.
The show I was watching emerge was Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending. On paper it really looked like a daunting prospect – a tale of love, loss, and loneliness set in the deep south of the US and translated into Japanese, with an English creative team, a starry cast made up of some of the country’s leading film and theatre actors, and what looked like an overly staffed production team. However, what unravelled before my eyes was a splendid and inspiring education in what can be achieved with great teamwork and big heartedness.
In the UK, the rehearsal room is most usually the private sanctuary for the actors and director, with the company only attending when called. Nothing is shown until the technical and at that point the stage management team begin to run the show. This is not how it’s done in Tokyo.
For the four weeks of rehearsal the door is open to all, and for the majority of the time, every member of the cast, production team, press team, and marketing team is present. Everyone attends for the seven-hour call, with each person responsible for taking their own notes and owning the show as they need to. There isn’t a stage management team, instead a Formula One-like production crew service the needs of the show in rehearsal and performance. Watching the tech I was impressed by the immaculate and precise timing of sequences and changes, and the seamless movement from cue to cue. It was like magic. And, it was magic as this was all happening without anyone giving instruction or calling the show. At no point did it feel like there would be a car crash, or gaping hole of non-activity, as people became lost and confused. This beautiful zen-like flow was a direct result of a team that had shared the whole experience and taken responsibility for the minute detail of their particular task. The production was everyone’s call and nothing was lost in translation.