Soho Theatre + Writers' Centre, London W1
Opened 23 June, 2008

Two years after their first collaboration at this address, The Bee, Colin Teevan and Hideki Noda attempt a more fundamental fusion of eastern and western theatrical aesthetics. Teevan’s rhyming script weaves together The Tale Of Genji (exactly 1000 years old and regarded by some as the first true novel in the world) and associated Noh dramas with a contemporary Japanese murder case. A woman accused of an arson which killed the two children of her boss/lover takes refuge in multiple personalities from old tales. As a state prosecutor and an impatient Gene Hunt of a police inspector itch to get her to the gallows, a psychiatrist tries to unlock her “true” self by navigating through her other personae’s accounts of courtly and not so courtly love (and at one over-indulgent point, a TV dating game show). The title refers to the first of the woman’s alternate personalities, that of a pearl diver, as well as to the psychiatric process and even to the amniotic ocean cradling the unborn.
Director Noda (who also plays the psychiatrist) elicits fluid transitions between naturalistic and Noh-stylised sequences. Lanky Harry Gostelow looks a bit daft doing the traditional Noh forward-moonwalk, but that is one moment in 80 minutes of delicacy during which no movement for minutes at a time seems ever definitively to begin or end; the action simply flows around the couch which is the only major feature of Catherine Chapman’s set design. In a nod to conventional Noh codes of gesture, versatile use is made of fans: they become everything from mobile phones, by way of pizza slices, to gynaecological instruments. And the multiple transitions between the accused Yumi, the pearl diver, the young woman who became the mistress of the emperor’s son Genji and others are made to seem characteristically effortless by Kathryn Hunter. We half-register not just the major parallel between the spurned imperial concubine and the contemporary accused woman, but also phone calls taken by the prosecutor which obliquely suggest that he is himself in the same position as Genji (both played by Gostelow). The junction of criminal psychology and private mythology has to an extent been dramatically hackneyed for us ever since Peter Shaffer’s Equus+ what keeps The Diver from sinking is the sustaining blend of air in its lungs.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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