In Hideki Noda and Colin Teevan’s The Bee, a collaboration between Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre and Soho Theatre in association with NODA MAP, two men push the limits in a dangerous game of ‘who will crack first?’. Ido, played by the immensely dexterous Kathryn Hunter, returns home after work to find his wife and child have been kidnapped by Ogoro (Glyn Pritchard). The police inspector Dodoyama (Clive Mendus) wants to wait it out but Ido takes matters into his own hands – by kidnapping Ogoro’s own wife (played by Hideki Noda) and child. Ido’s state of mind seems challenged as he resorts to increasingly shocking methods to challenge Ogoro, in the hope he will set his family free. The victim suddenly becomes the criminal, which The Bee explores brilliantly as an almost Japanese fable.

The Bee is a wonderful tale, which manages to suck its audience into a gruesome game of switching perspectives and dark humour. Hunter is on top form playing the male character of Ido with a strange clarity that becomes sinister as the piece develops. Hunter, who is no stranger to playing everything from a monkey to Richard III, captures every minute detail of Ido as he morphs from respectable gentleman to twisted killer. Noda and Teevan’s script, based upon an original story by Yasutaka Tsutsui, captures a story much like a Grimm fairytale; a story of twisted narratives and characters that delves deep into chilling circumstances. What The Bee manages to also capture is a real sense of self-awareness. The message it portrays¬† shine blindingly from the work, with Hunter’s character proving¬† how easy it is for a good guy to become the bad guy.

Miriam Buether’s design is excellent at creating a real sense of cacophony and purposeful chaos on the stage. Key objects that play a part in the breaking down of Ido’s mind are half melted into the brilliant orange floor, and a backdrop of reflective mirroring makes for some exceptional trickery with lighting. Equally, Noda’s direction is chaotic and exergised, a playful space is created where elements of physical theatre, farce and absurdity mix together giving The Bee a pivotal motion, a state of flux almost.

Whilst it may take the audience some time to get into the performance style of The Bee, a real joy can be found in the various elements that make up the production. It has a cast who excel themselves, especially Hunter, and writer/director/performer Noda’s portrayal of Ogoro’s wife became captivating. He might be dressed as a woman, but the femininity and commitment to the character leaves you without any doubt that he was Ogoro’s wife in the flesh. This commitment is even more impressive given that Noda also directs the piece.

The Bee is a slick production, the 70-minute running time entertains, delights, even causes a few gasps of horror, but never does it feel taxing. Even now Noda and Teevan’s story seems to haunt me, a sure sign that a production has managed to get right under the skin of its audience and take them on a journey. The Bee is in many ways a production that would put most British led theatre to shame, but this half-Japanese, half-British mixture works wonderously to tease out the qualities of both cultures.

If you’re looking for a piece of theatre that really gets you from every direction from the text to the design to the acting, then The Bee has to be it. Shocking, inspiring, laugh-out-loud funny, but never a compromising moment. Book a ticket before it leaves for its world tour. (Oh and it’s got Kathryn Hunter in, what’s not to like?!)

The Bee is playing at Soho Theatre until 11 February. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website. Photo by Michel Delsol