[Japan ~ Australian Premiere]
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Tue 3 Oct.
The lights go down at Her Majesty’s and we are taken to an unnamed inn with no owner in the far north west of Japan to spend a strange night with a group of lost souls. Travelling father and son puppeteers awkwardly invade the routine of the regulars at the inn who are both excited and alarmed at having exotic company from Tokyo, and they struggle to reign in their curiosity about their visitors. To add to the intrigue no one knows who has invited the puppeteers to come and perform in this out of the way inn and after initially declining they eventually agree to perform part of their show. It features a grotesque puppet figure and shocking and amusing sexual acts, and unleashes a torrent of sexual energy that crashes through traditional restraints.
The show’s revolving, split level set is a masterpiece of cultural detail, and allows the main action on one level to be metaphorically echoed on another. The scene of an outdoor hot spring is a visual feast. It is completely engrossing and reveals a relaxed attitude to public nudity and mixed bathing as part of a kakenagashi ceremony – a traditional spa for bathing and healing. The whole experience is incredibly realistic.
For a production where many don’t speak, or say little, apart from when the visiting geishas become inappropriately verbose after one too many sakes, The Dark Inn has a lot to say about existence, the meaning of life, and the encroaching impact of modernity on traditional ways. Rich with cultural referents, tradition is both respected and the object of humour.
It was a shame that screens placed to the side of the stage meant that one’s focus was divided between the stage and the translated dialogue and it took some getting used to, but in sum this was a sensational entrée into Japanese theatre. Unlike some other offerings at this years’ OzAsia Festival this is squarely focused on a more traditional Asia, and The Dark Inn is beguiling and challenging. It has left me feeling like I want to see it again to truly understand all it represents.
The Dark Inn continues at Her Majesty’s Theatre from 7pm until Wed 4 Oct.
Book at BASS on 131 246 and bass.net.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Image courtesy of Shinsuke Sugino