On the back wall of Miriam Buether’s orange Perspex set is a mirror against which the actors on both side of the stage and the audience are reflected, evoking mirror images of the same scenario acted out simultaneously combined with a sense of voyeurism. Hideki Noda and Colin Teevan’s play could be considered a kind of adult morality tale with a sting in the tail in which a ‘good’ man becomes a ‘bad’ man in order to take his revenge, returning to Soho Theatre, where it premiered in 2006, as part of an international tour with Kathryn Hunter reprising her cross-gender role as Mr Ido.
Based on a story by Yasutaka Tsutsui, the respectable, middle-class ‘salaryman’ Mr Ido returns home from the office on his son’s birthday to find himself caught up in a barrier of elastic bands because his wife and son have been taken hostage by Ogoro, an escaped convict. While the police and press mill about outside and pester him for a telegenically emotional statement (preferably with tears), Ido, who previously always considered himself to be a pacifist, refuses to play the part of a pitiful victim reliant on the ineffectual Chief of Police Dodoyama to save the day and decides to take matters into his own hands by inflicting the same dangers on Ogoro’s own wife and son.
The diminutive Hunter convinces as a man simply by ‘being’ rather than using exaggerated actorly gestures. At first rather befuddled and unworldly, Ido takes to his new role as an aggressor with a disconcerting amount of relish and becomes increasingly conscious of the power of his masculinity. The aggressive hyper-masculinity with a predatory expression and legs astride that Ido adopts is more stylised, as if influenced by the misogynistic language of the Steve McQueen-wannabe police officer Anchoku, who sees women as household slaves and sexual objects.
There is more gender-bending in co-writer and director Hideki Noda’s performance as Ogoro’s lap-dancer wife. The real grotesquery is in Ido’s treatment of her. The surprisingly unshowy cross-gender casting is juxtaposed with the stylised design, including elastic band noodles eaten with pencil chopsticks and the communication with the outside world takes place through the a series of hatches and the television.
The frantic pace slows down when Ido, Ogoro’s wife and son settle into an unnerving domestic routine of rape and mutilation played out against the strains of Madame Butterfly. While the repetition in such a short play is overly emphatic, knowing what was coming didn’t stop me from flinching and covering my eyes every time Hunter’s extraordinarily versatile face settled in a grimace and she lifted the knife to chop off yet another pencil-finger.
Read the Exeunt interview with Kathryn Hunter about The Bee.