Feature: When London looked to the Eastern sky

Last month, the Royal Court Theatre world-premiered a set of three original pieces in association with Tokyo’s New National Theatre, in an unprecedented collaboration between both venues. Guillermo Nazara offers us an insight look at this intricate venture, upon interviewing its dramaturgs and artistic directors, to guide us into the depths of this innovative project where arts from both sides across the globe merge together to be reborn as one.

“EXPERIMENTING”, cries with excited emphasis as she’s being asked about the whole reason of bringing Japanese technique to the British stage. It is indeed a day of experimentation at the Royal Court Theatre: playwrights from across the Pacific blending their inheritance with European artistry, actors rehearsing the lines that will bring the stories from a distant land to the boards of Central London, and journalists interviewing creatives – each of them speaking a language the other one does not understand. The interpreters, however, will serve their purpose.

“It’s already been one year and a half since we started arranging everything with this venue”, continues explaining Eriko Ogawa, Artistic Director of Drama for Tokyo’s National Theatre. “We’ve visited the place three times during this period and we’ve developed 14 different scripts, out of which Royal Court has chosen three to be put onstage. This is a very meaningful process to us, especially because I think that London audiences are more accustomed to traditional Japanese art forms. This has posed an opportunity to give voice to our young dramaturgs. We believe in this plays very vividly so we’re hoping for viewers to have the same experience as us”.

The Fukushima catastrophe, the delusions of a expecting mother or the struggles stemming from social disadvantages. Truly the storylines leave room for nothing else than a roaring sea of crude emotions. Something that nonetheless stays miles away from their authors’ temperament. Filling the place with their infectious enthusiasm, three playwrights comment on their works and learning processes while bringing their background onto the English boards. “It was precisely when I heard about this competition that I got pregnant, so I felt devastated as I thought I couldn’t carry on with theatremaking. But instead, I decided to use this time to apprentice on how to write a play properly. My parents didn’t support me at all, but I did it anyway”, comments among laughs Tomoko Kataka.

“When I wrote my play, I actually wasn’t keen on telling this story too much”, admits Shoko Matsumara, “but I thought it necessary to talk about the violence certain people have suffered, as they’ve been forced to be silenced. So I wanted to express that through my words”. “In my case, I knew from the very beginning that Fukushima was what I wanted to write about”, claims Saori Chiba. “But the situation is so complex that it’s almost impossible to convey to people – there’s just too many things. So first of all, I needed to make understand what was going on. On my way home, I saw a dead raccoon, and by that time I was learning about the decontamination process of workers in the media. I started to wonder about this invisible thing that could be in the air. That’s also why I decided that Onigari Valley, which is the title of my play, was the right place to set the plot”.

As the buzz for premiere night electrifies the space, the feeling of dedication also flows through the air – as if all that’s been got is but a process of investigation, through which proof and error have dictated the path to the final performance. “Over the course of this collaboration, we have organised 3 separate workshops, which have allowed creatives to explore and try all different techniques”, comments Royal Court’s International Associate Director Sam Pritchard. “The artistic understanding and expertise of these new artists is one of the most exciting things of this experimentation, with different traditions all working together in the same room. The most fundamental part of this project, as it is usual with the Royal Court, is to share with our audiences the most thrilling voices, wherever we can come to some sort of relationship”.

Hopefully the first of many years of collaboration to come, as it’s wished by its organizers, this initial bond between East and West through two of the most important companies across the Atlantic has no doubt marked a turning point – providing not only artists but also viewers with new channels of expression and understanding. That connection between artist and public may be realized through one single lesson, learned in tandem by both realities through the unifying experience of creation: there’s still new formulas to be found.

All pictures credit to Theodorah Ndlovu.

All upcoming shows at the Royal Court Theatre are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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