Picture by World-In-Theatre
Date: 14 July 2007
Time: 7.30 pm
Venue: Studio Theatre, School of Performing Arts, NAFA
by Ang Houfu
16 July 2007
Mishima: Women in Love is a double-bill of plays written by Yukio Mishima — Hanjo and Lady Aoi. A first-time collaboration between the World-in-Theatre and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, the production brought together students and experienced theatre practitioners in an opportunity to work together. Presenting a disturbing and sometimes harrowing portraits of women whose lives had been destroyed by an unrequited love, the performances of the experienced Bridget Therese and NAFA student Sherilyn Tan managed to elevate the work beyond portraying “crazy women” to highlighting the visceral experience of love that is common and precious to all of us.
Admittedly, this reviewer had doubts over whether the playwright, Yukio Mishima, would be able to write about women in love, since his most famous act (other than the fact that he was one of the most significant Japanese writers of the 20th Century) was a public display of ritualised suicide to lament the loss of traditional values. The women in the plays however were complex creatures capable of tenderness and the plays regularly evoked images of an other-worldly and beautiful Japan. Audiences not used to references to such imagery would not need to bring a phrasebook along, since the play has been sufficiently modernised to accommodate the modern viewer. Even so, the traditional and the modern sat comfortably together, and never bothered the enjoyment of this play.
In Hanjo, a rich middle-aged artist, Jitsuko (Bridget Therese), holds Hanako (Sherilyn Tan) captive in an attempt to preserve her “perfect” beauty of pining endlessly for Yoshio, who had pledged to return to her since meeting Hanako at a train station. Jitsuko’s imposing presence on stage brought out her obsessive desire for control and her cavernous vulnerabilities in equal parts. Hanako’s brooding and innocent childishness was a better counterpoint to Jitsuko’s perfectionist tendencies. Surprisingly, even though Hanako was played like an overly romantic teenage lover, an understated performance provided the source of tension in the play. Before the audience realised that the roles have been reversed between Jitsuko and Hanako at the end of the play, Hanako had already displayed a shocking control over the events that had been already played out. Arguably the stronger play of the double-bill, Hanjo lays out love as a force that is compelling and fascinating, but also a sublime force that may be possessed by someone who only seems weaker at face value.
Much of the mystic and other-worldly mood of the play was well fleshed out by the simple set and the dramatic lighting. What this reviewer found interesting was the way the stage was designed such that a part of the audience formed the “background” of the stage, and at various times, the lighting made the audience plainly in sight. Like Jitsuko, who adamantly claims she is a voyeur in the whole proceedings of Hanako’s plight, the audience’s attraction to Hanako’s plight is given a disturbing slant as one sees himself or herself mirroring Jitsuko’s obsessions. The distress and confused fascination that was obvious on the faces of the audience only made the play much more compelling.
In Lady Aoi, Hikaru (Andrew Mowatt) visits his hospitalised wife, Lady Aoi (Sherilyn Tan). He finds out that his wife had been visited by Mrs Rokujo (Bridget Therese), a former lover of Hikaru. Hikaru accosts Mrs Rokujo, believing that she has been torturing Lady Aoi, since Mrs Rokujo wants Hikaru back with her. A more immediate and light-hearted experience (helped by Elizabeth Tan’s quirky performance as an overly talkative nurse), the play however failed to rise above an exploration of Hikaru’s own neuroses. Showing little discernable difference from her performance as Jitsuko, Bridget Therese’s overpowering portrayal of an older lover does not fit as well here as it did in Hanjo. The vulnerabilities of the characters failed to come through from the performance, and as such it suffers from the feeling that it never lived up to its expectations.
One wonders whether this might have been caused by the choice of play. The focus of the play is really on Hikaru, and following Hanjo, one might have been expecting to focus on Lady Aoi and Mrs Rokujo, only to realise that they are only pawns in Hikaru’s sexual repression. Even so, a modern treatment of the play (which may have been Yukio Mishima’s intention) would have challenged the audience to review their perceptions of how the play was supposed to have progressed. Lady Aoi, regrettably, seemed like a page out of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories.
In spite of some misgivings, Mishima:Women in Love was an enjoyable experience. Supplanted by a well-designed stage and lighting, competent performances and a well-paced story, the play manages to speak to an audience that may not have been familiar with motifs of a foreign nature by focusing on the experience of love. While this reviewer would not recommend the play to teenage lovers, a mature couple or someone who has lost at love would find themselves identifying with some of the stories the characters speak of.
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Ang Houfu is a Law undergraduate at NUS. While he is involved with and writes for the School’s only student-run legal journal, Singapore Law Review, he has not been discouraged from his lifelong love for writing and fascination with the stage.
Hi Houfu. Sonny Lim here, co-director of the show with Richard Chua. I’ve only just read your review today (5 Sep)! I just want to say that I found your review the most ‘fully-rounded’ of all those on this production so far.
What I mean by ‘fully-rounded’ is that your personal response has been subsumed to a wider ‘weighing up’ of what you felt the production was trying to do and how well it has done it. Too often, reviewers spend too much time on saying what they expected to see, what they WANTED to see, rather than evaluating what the creators wanted to SHOW. In other words, they are mentally re-directing the show as they are watching it in an attempt to bring the show in line with their understanding of the show. They therefore end up writing about what the show should have been, or what the actors should have done and so on.
Every review is, of course, a personal response, but I feel that there is a difference between answering the casual question posed by a friend, “So what did you think of it?” and writing a review of it. One asks for a personal response, the other is asking for something more.
It is actually more instructive for a reviewer to look at any puzzling element of a show and ask, “Why was this directed like that/Why was this role acted like this etc” rather than to assume that there had been an error of judgement. This is the most difficult part of reviewing I find. It is only after I have tossed around all possible answers and still found the element puzzling that I would, as a reviewer myself, assume that it was an error of judgement. Bridget’s performance of Mrs Rokujo is a case in point: what you saw was exactly what she intended -- ‘overpowering’ and ‘not so vulnerable’, although you say you wished she had shown greater vulnerability. On the relative matter of power vs vulnerability in Mrs Rokujo’s character, it was Bridget’s call here. And the two directors’ call. What was fascinating for Richard Chua, Bridget and myself was not Mrs Rokujo’s vulnerability; it was her power.
Thanks, Houfu, for writing this very thoughtful review.