Kagami Theatre certainly knows how to create an atmosphere. The space of Theatre503’s intimate above-pub auditorium is used well by the design team of this production, a new adaptation Abe Kobo’s 1962 novel, The Woman in the Dunes. The lights come up on a space, designed by Lauren Cameron, matching the all-encompassing monotonous colour of a desert, surrounded on all three sides by light brown sheeting, with a sandy floor. The lighting and sound design (Simon Gethin Thomas & Alan Jones respectively) are likewise evocative. In the centre kneel three hooded figures dressed in a similar material to the walls, simultaneously hidden and conspicuous in the desert landscape.
They are here to tell a story; one that is absurdist, nihilistic and Kafkaesque, though not without humour. The mysterious cloaked figures share the story, question each other, finish each other’s sentences and play with language until it finally collapses. They speak in enigmatic shreds of truth about a man who has gone missing. The beginning section is impressively performed by Felix O’Brien, Roslyn Paterson and Niall Kerrigan with precision and presence. The dialogue here, with its linguistic acrobatics and experimentalism, is well written by Micha Colombo. Colombo is also the director; the play is well structured, the performers use the space well and have clearly delineated characters, though here they perform as one, mirroring each other’s movements uncannily. The narrators are non-specific characters, and this is mirrored in their surroundings and throughout the rest of the play. It is set in ‘an unnamed year in an unnamed land’, but in a place of heightened, or different, reality. It has an allegorical sense to it, which adds richness and interest to the story, and what it might be trying to tell us.
Shortly after this opening section, the mysterious figures reveal themselves, and with the divesting of the cloaks comes a change in the action. We are transported to something which seems almost like reality, though not quite. The tone begins as one that is quite humorous and light-hearted, though it certainly doesn’t stay that way. O’Brien’s simply titled character, ‘The Man’, is smug though somewhat gauche as he happily goes about his task of studying a particular species of sand insect, though there are hints at the darkness to come in the suspicion of the locals, and their paranoid references to ‘government inspectors’. Though enjoyable and well-portrayed, the story develops somewhat slowly and could do with being pacier, with perhaps more of the heightened performance of the opening section, which would have suited the absurd style of the story well. Overall, it is a story well told, with many powerful echoes and resonances in our modern times.
Woman in the Dunes is playing Theatre 503 until 18 January. For more information and tickets, see the Theatre503 website.