Tuesday 23 August 2011

EIF 2011 - Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, or Put that Kitchen Sink down Stage Right I'll Think What to do with it Later

I am thinking of having an Edinburgh International Festival Non-Music Endurance Medal struck. It would be awarded each year to those people intrepid (or in my case mad enough) to attend more than 50% of the EIF's non-music programming (I have so far this year endured 100% of the Drama programme and 33% of the Dance programme). This idea came to my mind as I sat stuck mid-row looking at my watch and resisting the urge to shout at the performers to GET ON WITH IT.

On paper, as I said back when the programme was announced, there was promise in this show. Murakami writes wonderful novels in beguiling prose. Unfortunately, this adaptation manages to throw that away. I can put it most simply by saying where Murakami is a pleasure to read this attempt at a play is an endurance test and not in a good way. It is some years since I read the book, but I had not remembered the plot as being so disjointed and confused and this was confirmed by two friends I happened to meet at the end who had only recently read the novel. Fragments of plot surface periodically but they are not linked together coherently, the consequence once again is to fail to build one's interest in and emotional concern for the characters.

In place of plot and character, as so often in the modern theatre, Earnhart goes for effect on top of effect. This staging has an overly mobile set, ample film projections and other lighting effects, and a great deal of puppetry which can't hold a candle in emotional terms to the National Theatre's productions of His Dark Materials or War Horse. Some of this is very beautiful but the effects are passing and don't build because, as so often the overall consequence is to divorce one from the characters and consequently from having much interest in their ultimate fate. For all these reasons it struck me that he was a director if ever there was one for John Berry at English National Opera to embrace with open arms.

The cast are Japanese so far as I can judge from the programme but deliver their lines in a mixture of Japanese and English. This intermingling of languages seems to be in vogue at the Festival this year (or at least it has been a characterisation of the Drama programme's two major productions). It doesn't jar as much here as in 1001 Nights but it doesn't add much to the experience either. Because the script is such a confusion it's difficult to judge the acting but nobody really stands out.

The best part of the proceedings is the score composed and performed from within a bank of instruments at the front of the Stalls by Bora Yoon. She does add some atmosphere to things and it's just a pity that her musical endeavours haven't got better material on stage to support.

This makes five non-music shows in a row. It will be a relief and I hope a delight to get back to the Usher Hall tonight and the high quality team of the Philharmonia and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

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