It’s Noh but not as we know it, as Hideki Noda returns to Soho Theatre with another utterly bizarre gender-bending kaleidoscopic piece of work. Reprising much of the same cast as 2012’s The Bee – Noda, Glyn Pritchard and Kathryn Hunter, One Green Bottle also shares many of the elements of that cruel absurdist drama. Except this time the comedy is overt, the horror largely absent (that finger breaking scene in The Bee still ranks amongst the few ‘Yes, I’m actually going to be sick’ moments I’ve experienced in a theatre that wasn’t linked to gin consumption) and in its place an existential strangeness.
The audience are distanced from the antics of Bo (Hunter), his wife Boo (Noda) and their teen daughter Pickles (Pritchard) who exist in a silly, slapstick world. The plot (and I use that in the loosest sense of the word) is an extended argument as to whose engagement is least pressing and will stay home to look after their massively pregnant dog. The comedy unfurls as it is revealed that all are telling fibs as to their true reasons for leaving the house, each true appointment revealing a ridiculous side to the already ludicrous personalities.
Once again Noda includes cross-dressed characters, the family trapped in their apartment, the blending of classical Japanese performance with a knowing subversion of Western expectations. In The Bee, this was weaved through via the strains of Madame Butterfly underscoring repeated acts of violence. In One Green Bottle, it’s a constant confliction of attention: a TV blares commercials whilst Denzaemon Tanaka XIII sits sentinel like offstage, playing traditional instruments. Pritchard skips across the stage as a selfie-snapping, Harajuku purple haired Kawaii Princess but still sounding very much like a Welsh Dude. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Only Noda’s Boo is slightly what she seems: a Sue Pollard take on a Japanese housewife but fashioned through the anime canon (the script describing her as similar to ‘Sazae-san’, the protagonist of a well-known Japanese comic strip).
Even Yukio Horio’s set twists elements of the Noh stage – the runway, the curtained entrances – but with all elegant simplicity thrown to the wind by covering everything in embossed foil strips. The downstage suggestion of a hashira (one of the four columns that traditionally border a Noh stage) is here but in the form of a vertical tower of Wi-Fi routers and plug sockets.
This intermingling is achieved best in Hunter’s embodiment of patriarch Bo, ‘a master of the classical stage’. Immaculately made up in bald cap (Eri Akamatsu’s hair and makeup skills holding up well to the audiences’ close proximity), Hunter is a mash up of Noh and Kabuki references, visually in Kodue Hibino’s costumes and through her knife sharp gestures. Yet she booms in the honeyed, massively pretentious tones of Laurence Olivier. Only Hunter could layer these insinuations with a Disney parade dance as Bo extols the delights of Michael Mouse at Wonderland. Her physical comedy, as she has proven time and time again, is second to none.
One Green Bottle is discombobulating, the cultural references smacking into your head just don’t compute. The second half, (for reasons that will be obvious but excluded here cos SPOILERS) is more static that the first. A hopeless sense of waiting for that last bottle to fall slowly smothers the comedy in a manner that would make Beckett proud. Noda has once again pulled the tatami out from under the audience and is laughing as we fall.
One Green Bottle is on until 19 May 2019 at the Soho Theatre. Click here for more details.