Dokei translates to longing, that wrenching, pit of your stomach emotion that is indefinable and universally specific. The tagline: ‘Love as much as you can but let go as soon as you must’, reiterates the idea that love and longing permeate time and are stubbornly unchanging. But how would Dutch Courage Productions manage to change the all too familiar Lion and Unicorn attic space into an entirely new world of late-19th early-20th century Japan? Triumphantly. The staging is cleverly simplistic, the kind of uncluttered simplicity that encourages you to observe it in detail and the more you look the more intricacies you find: dotted hydrangeas, origami birds, a traditional scroll and quill, a tea set and, most strikingly, a screen forming the back wall used to display projections of historical images that also move over our protagonist’s kimono and fan as she stands longingly centre stage.
The historical backdrop of the piece is almost incidental in comparison to the themes of humanity but is intriguing without detracting. Famed Dutch physician Phillipp von Siebold was sent to Dejima in 1823, bringing vaccination and pathological anatomy with him. Dokei focuses on his relationship with, and marriage to, Japanese courtesan Kusumoto Taki (Jung Sun den Hollander). Siebold was banned from Japan on charges of being a spy, dragging down scores of others with him who were tortured and executed for their involvement. Den Hollander’s tale is through the distinctly female eyes of Taki, who is hoping for both his return and his innocence, plus the restoration of the past she savours.
As the writer and performer of this one-woman show den Hollander blasts the inherent self-indulgent preconception of the genre out of the water, ensuring that not a single member falls into a slumber of boredom as one performer attempts to juggle all their tastes at once. Den Hollander achieved this by injecting the piece with variety, flitting backwards and forwards in time through harrowing experiences to reminiscence of love. Taki addresses the audience as though she is telling her story to her grandchild, giving each audience member the notion that she is talking to each of us individually, drawing us in, one by one, incredibly effectively.
On this, Dokei’s opening night and Dutch Courage’s premiere production I reckon that they nailed the whole ethos of what fringe theatre ought to be: honest collaboration, belief in what you’re doing and an absolute dedication to producing it as well as you possibly can. I am officially eagerly awaiting the next step of this brand new company.
Dokei played The Lion and Unicorn Theatre. For more information, see The Lion and Unicorn Theatre website. Photo by Phil Smith.