If you’re into international existentialism in a big way, then Yoroboshi at the New Wimbledon Studio Theatre is the show for you. With a tantalisingly short 45 minute running time, this modern Japanese Noh play asks more questions than it answers, leaving one’s mind circling around those age old philosophical questions – what is self? Who is God? Where’s the bar?
To fully appreciate this play, it helps to know a little bit about the author and the history of Japanese literature. Yoroboshi was written in 1960 by the internationally famous writer/director, Yukio Mishima. It is a modern take on a traditional Japanese play taken from the Noh repertoire (a form of classical Japanese drama which dates back to the 14th century).
Mishima himself is a fascinating literary figure. Born in 1925, his work was heavily influenced by the socio-political fallout of World War II, and in particular the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by US atomic bombs. Despite marrying and fathering two children, Mishima is thought to have been privately homosexual, and since his death several men have claimed to have had affairs with him. A fierce political activist and a devoted Nationalist, Mishima committed ritual suicide in 1970 after a failed coup d’état against the Japanese military. Nominated three times for the Nobel Prize for literature, it would be no exaggeration to compare Mishima to the likes of Theodor Adorno or Eugene Ionesco. However, partly due to the fact that much of his work remains untranslated, his international influence has waned somewhat since his death.
This is in fact the UK premier of Yoroboshi. John Walton, directing, has translated the script himself. The story centres around the mysterious character of Toshinori, a twenty year old man who became separated from his family as a child following an attack on his home town which left him blind. Adopted by a wealthy couple, Toshinori has lived in relative comfort all his life, but his past traumas have left him mentally unbalanced. Now his birth parents have tracked him down, and are willing to undergo a fierce custody battle in order to bring him back to their family.
This new version of Yoroboshi is littered with the inflections of the Japanese language. This is both a weakness and a strength: whilst the stock of foreign idioms and metaphors make the script interesting from a semantic perspective, they also cause certain sections of the dialogue to sound awkward and a little hammy. Despite this, the play is arresting. Toshinori is depicted as a man-child, torn between his physical dependence on his parents and his total ambivalence towards humanity, which he believes is a doomed race. Entering in a white suit and dark sunglasses, his presence on stage seems both malevolent and divine, and his words take on a prophetic quality as he describes his visions of impending Armageddon.
With a complex lighting design and a well thought out set, the strength of this production lies in its attention to detail. Budding philosophers would do well to take a look.
Yoroboshi by Yukio Mishima was at the New Wimbledon Studio
23 – 26 February www.ambassadortickets.com/wimbledon
Image courtesy of Bridgeman Education
Pacific Sun (oil), Romy Ragan, Private collection, ©Bridgeman Education