Pros: An eloquent and fascinatingly historical one-woman show.
Cons: Lighting, sound, and music were disjointed and need ironing out.
One of the best things about theatre is that it gives a voice to those characters that would never have had one in the real world but should have. Dôkei (Longing) breaths life into the experience of a young woman in 19th and 20th century Japan with such depth, courage, and compassion that it’s impossible to believe she hasn’t had a voice before.
The story details life, love and loss of Taki Kusumoto, and her experience in relation to her lover, Dr Phillip Von Siebold, famously the only western Doctor in Japan at the time.
It’s a tremendous tale and one that seems hauntingly relevant. Taki falls in love with Dr Von Siebold, who works and lives on an island where Japanese were strictly forbidden to go unless they had the special stamp of the courtesan. Taki teaches him Japanese during a time when foreigners were not meant to be given any key to their culture. Their dangerous love affair is eventually thwarted when Von Siebold is accused of being a Russian Spy and banished from Japan forever leaving Taki and their small child behind.
The story is framed from the perspective of an older Taki, who relates her love story to her granddaughter many years later. Initially nervous to give a voice to her own experience, she recounts her story with both tenderness and balance from the moment she met the doctor, Phillip, when she was very young, to the time that she sees him again after 30 years.
Both playwright and performer, Jong Sun den Hollander has created and produced on stage a dynamic tale that is at once heart-breaking and heart-warming. Not just another tale of a woman who finds strength through strife, it is a beautiful story of life after love and, what I’m sure is the unfamiliar side of a famous part of Japan’s history.
The show is well suited to the single performer format and small black box stage of the Lion and the Unicorn Theatre. Sound and lighting effects could benefit from smoother transitions so as not to detract from he impact of the piece, but the use of pre-recorded voice overs to establish the presence of other integral characters such as Phillip, was a clever means of establishing relationships while allowing the audience to see their impact on Taki.
Jong Sun den Hollander transitioned her character convincingly from one stage in Taki’s life to the next, demonstrating youthful innocence as easily as the sageness that comes with the passing of many years. While the use of song was devastatingly powerful, particularly when used in conjunction with simple shadow puppetry, some pieces do need more work.
Overall, this is a beautiful piece of storytelling of a fascinating period in Japanese history. One to watch.
Author: Jong Sun den Hollander
Director: Katie Merritt
Producer: Michelle Lee and Naoko Masugi
This show has now completed its run.