Thursday, 2 February 2012

Theatre review: The Bee

If you've been reading my reviews since they were on the other blog, you'll know I'm a fan of Kathryn Hunter. Last year I introduced Andy to the revival of Kafka's Monkey, and that made him keen to catch her future work as well. Hunter often seems happy to to revisit earlier work and so it is with Hideki Noda and Colin Teevan's The Bee, which she first appeared in in 2006, and which is now on an international tour. She plays Mr Ido, a Tokyo salaryman who one day in 1974 returns home from work to find police and reporters surrounding his house - an escaped murderer has taken his wife and son hostage. Ido's response is to take the kindapper's own wife and child hostage. This stalemate is the heart of the play.

Glyn Pritchard, Clive Mendus and Hideki Noda play all the other characters in this pitch-black comedy that uses both physicality and creative use of props to tell its story - amusing uses are found for rubber bands, and you know the actors are doing something right when snapping a pencil causes audience members to flinch. Hunter is well matched by the other performers - Noda as the kidnapper's wife is particularly haunting as the character gradually succumbs to shock, and his face goes eerily blank. With a lot of fun humour early on (as far as I can tell the 1970s setting is largely so we get a couple of gags about people being inordinately impressed by calculators and cars with electric windows) it's not just the setting that's Japanese but the particular brand of oddity, Miriam Buether's set adding to the cartoon feel. This sense of the surreal is still in evidence as the subject matter gets increasingly bleaker.

Thematically the show covers a lot of ground, from the media, to the central theme of extreme circumstances pushing a seemingly normal man into horrific actions, and later the play takes in a bit of twisted satire on domestic routine - Andy also interpreted parts of it as commentary on tit-for-tat retaliations in warfare. This scattergun approach to its targets may be one reason I found myself at more of an emotional distance than I expected; the cleverness of the performances is probably something else that you admire rather than being hooked in by. Though I suspect the only reason I noticed this is because previous shows starring Kathryn Hunter have always tugged at the heartstrings with seeming ease, so I noticed the contrast. This is more of an intellectually stimulating show, and while it's star's physical skills and easy empathy are in evidence, her ability to turn from comedy to tragedy and back is the acting muscle getting most exercise here.

The Bee by Hideki Noda and Colin Teevan is booking until the 11th of February at Soho Theatre; then continuing on tour to Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes straight through.

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