Edinburgh Fringe Review: Tokyo Trilogy

To successfully adapt the work of Haruki Murakami for the stage at any age is a feat, yet this is what the six young actors of Sackville Theatre Company have aspired to do in Tokyo Trilogy, three interlocking stories from the Japanese author’s most prominent short story collection. The action cuts frenetically between an assortment of peculiar tales – an insomniac woman finds her nocturnal life richly rewarding now she no longer wastes any time sleeping, a pair of newlyweds wake in the night to torturous hunger pangs and empty cupboards, and an emotionally detached office clerk sends a rambling, sexually-charged, kangaroo-heavy letter to the sender of a complaint.

The stories of Murakami are an intriguing, if ambitious choice for such a young company. Clearly influenced in style and content by Complicite’s masterful adaption The Elephant Vanishes, the ensemble make clever use of a sparse set, striking lighting and the prerequisite puppetry.  Like their predecessors, the company do show a flair for striking theatrical images that persist in the memory-  a laughing human fridge, a lonely car in the darkness and most poignantly, a father and son represented only by two empty suits, one large and one miniature, the actors hands in the sleeves waving a slow goodbye to the mother who will abandon them.

Inevitably, the company’s inexperience does show and there are moments that go to waste. The utter avoidance of the rather grisly but narratively crucial suggestion of a brutal attack through the use of a clumsy blackout jolts us out of a well-paced atmosphere and leaves one story’s conclusion rather uncertain. Indeed, the ensemble clearly know the texts so well themselves that they have forgotten that the audience may not and at times, the connection between us and the actors is lost entirely. There are some transitions that do not, and should, aspire to be something more, and most of the narrative speech that the actors share too often hurries the action along rather than evoking it. Though the company have grasped the basics of Complicite’s visual style, they have neglected to attend to the details that would make Tokyo Trilogy more cohesive and ultimately far more rewarding.

It is still heartening to see that as Tokyo Trilogy goes on, the actors gain confidence in themselves and their staging. The final scene of ‘The Second Bakery Attack’, where the starvation-racked couple hold up a McDonalds by wielding bamboo sticks is remarkably sharp, absurdly funny and laced with the wry, dark humour that Murakami is famous for. A polite, endearment-heavy exchange between husband and wife that alternates swiftly between roaring demands at the captive cashiers creates an enjoyably sardonic commentary on the delicate balance of marriage politics even in a hostage situation. The lengthy monologue of ‘Kangaroo Communique’ spoken into a dictaphone, which in its initial appearances seemed rather static and tedious, is brought to a remarkable conclusion with the an inimitable expression of self-deprecation, “I feel like an aquarium trainer who’s let a seal die out of negligence,” done great comic justice by the young actor without underplaying the inherent tragedy of such a statement.

Unfortunately, though commendably dedicated, the company do fall short in consistently conveying the sense of subtle darkness that is central to Murakami’s work.  The surreal and unknown terrors that lurk almost unacknowledged beneath his relatively calm and rational narrative voices are, in this production, entirely ignored and its billing as a ‘comic adaptation’ seems rather too light-hearted and somehow inappropriate given the nature of the stories. Nevertheless, Tokyo Trilogy shows a strong sense of stagecraft that belies the company’s years and, given more time, they may well deliver on their promise.

** – 2/5 stars

Tokyo Trilogy is playing at C venues as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 27 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.

Devawn Wilkinson

Devawn is a London-based writer, performance poet and aspiring theatre-maker. As a reviewer, she has written for A Younger Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Exeunt Magazine.