The Bee by Hideki Noda and Colin Teevan at Soho Theatre
It has to be said, I approached The Bee with some misgivings. I wasn’t keen on the long journey, I’d never been to Soho Theatre before and the script hadn’t looked particularly promising. However, critics had raved and, as a playwright, I felt I should see it.
My map wasn’t up to much and most of the streets were boarded for building work, so it took a while and a lot of asking directions before I found Soho Theatre. I was expecting a small arts theatre rather like our own Phoenix, but was surprised to find a very large theatre with three separate stages and a smart cafe-bar. The upstairs theatre was pleasantly laid out with comfortably padded benches, and the staff were friendly and helpful. Good start.
The action takes place on a vermilion stage laid out with a few simple artefacts, against a mirrored wall at the back which becomes transparent from time to time as scenes are played behind it. Mr Ido comes home after work to find his house barricaded and himself surrounded by eager reporters. It transpires that Ogoro, a murderous criminal, has escaped from prison and is holding Mr Ido’s wife and son hostage. Ido is a peaceable man, but the ineptitude of the police and Ogoro’s refusal to enter into negotiations enrages him and he goes to Ogoro’s own house and takes his wife and son hostage in retaliation.
Ido takes over the role of husband and father in Ogoro’s house, and when Ogoro still refuses to cooperate, cuts off one of his son’s fingers and posts it to him (some neat work with pencils that nevertheless makes you wince). Ogoro responds with one of Ido’s son’s fingers. Ido sends another back, so does Ogoro, until there are no more fingers left. The play ends inconclusively with Ogoro’s wife and son dead and Ido preparing to cut off one of his own fingers.
The play is very much in the spirit of modern drama, and ‘theatrical’ in its best sense; that is, of the theatre. Not film or realistic telly drama, but suited to the demands of a stage, where realism can take a back seat. It’s highly stylised, with nods to Japanese Manga and Kabuki, and by turns funny, playful, shocking and beautiful, and it grips you from start to finish. Two images that remain with me are a family group eating noodles that are represented by elastic bands, and Ido sharing a bed with Ogoro’s wife and son on a stage littered with pink petals to the Humming Chorus from Madam Butterfly.
In the role-reversal tradition of Kabuki, Ido and Ogoro’s wife are played by female and male actors. It works well - Kathryn Hunt makes a very convincing Ido, and Hideki Noda is a delicate Wife. There are only four actors in the cast, so two have to double up a good deal, with considerable ingenuity. A play like this needs very strong direction, and as Noda does his own directing, you feel that everyone knows exactly what they’re doing.
I confess that the significance of the bee, which makes two brief ‘appearances’, eludes me, and there have been several speculations, but it’s probably symbolic of something. I’d be glad of enlightenment.
Discussion with Hideki Noda and Randy Gener on The Bee.