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Last Updated: Monday, 30 June, 2003, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
The Elephant Vanishes
The Elephant Vanishes
Newsnight Review discussed the stage adaptation of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami 's The Elephant Vanishes.

KIRSTY WARK:
James Brown, did it help you understand what modern Japanese life is like?

JAMES BROWN:
Not at all. The Elephant Vanishes, I wish I had vanished. I wanted to enjoy it, it came highly recommended. The stage and what they did with the light and choreography, the actual performance was brilliant. But after a while, I gave up trying to read the translation, which was 30 feet higher than the stage, because so much was going on on the stage. It was a lot better when you ignored the writing.

KIRSTY WARK:
We should say it's all in Japanese.

JAMES BROWN:
There was a translation. With films they put subtitles, sub, underneath, so you can read it at the same time. It was like this, like vertical tennis. The good thing was, the people who went specifically to see it, who paid their money for it, it was fantastic.

KIRSTY WARK:
There are huge Haruki Murakami fans.

JAMES BROWN:
Maybe it takes time to get into it, or you need to be educated into him, it certainly wasn't the Bridge over the River Kwai.

KIRSTY WARK:
I thought it had a balletic feel, the almost imperceptible movements across the stage, you didn't get a feeling it was all cluttered because of the consumer stuff and the televisions and the cameras. Surprisingly simple?

GERMAINE GREER:
I loved it, I must say. I've always been disappointed that we have so many ways of creating environments and of laying on imagery on the stage and we don't use them. We end up with ridiculous three-sided rooms and people staring out into the auditorium. I loved the fact they upended the stage so it became a picture frame and they used every part of it as if it was as interested as advertising, which I'm fascinated by. We had endless, different kinds of purveying of images, the great ghostly elephant at the back, the little vivid picture of this old elephant eye and the drawing on the electronic drawing pad and that kind of thing, that is all going on and the actors are being the elephant's feet and doing all kinds of different things. I was totally absorbed and fascinated all of the time but I did know the stories already. That was quite important. I didn't have to look up to the translation and catch up with what was happening. I actually think the staging, this is I can't imagine myself saying this, the staging is better than the story. The stories are a rather easy mix and the staging was much more challenging and more things could have gone wrong. And so precise. The other things, what did you make of the soundscape?

CHARLES SAUMAREZ SMITH:
I loved the whole thing. I was not familiar with the stories but I found it perfectly easy to understand to relate to the ideas of the different stories, of Tokyo being full of ostensibly boring leading pressured lives with this surreal sense of extraordinary things happening.

KIRSTY WARK:
It was a lot funnier than I thought it would be. The bakery attack story is funnier on stage than it was on the page. The sleep story is, at least moves gently on the page but doesn't translate as well on to the stage.

GERMAINE GREER:
I thought that was a dead heart to it. I could have done without it.

JAMES BROWN:
She was the only one incapable of sleeping, I had no problem through that bit!


CHARLES SAUMAREZ SMITH:
The bakery attack was one of the most amazing stories. The combination of the baker and the hold-up at McDonald's was a completely bizarre and beautiful and very balletic movement on the stage, that combination of literature and scene setting was wonderful.

KIRSTY WARK:
I loved in the way the programme, Simon McBurney talks of being in a journey himself, being in Tokyo, not quite working out how he was going to do it and being stuck for ages and letting the Japanese actors say this is the way you have to do this, you have to follow our way. I thought that was terrific. Just letting them get on with it.

GERMAINE GREER:
Yes, I don't terribly want to read him, about what he thought he was doing. I'm much more interested in what came out of the creativity of the artists working with him. He does a bit too much talking for my liking. I was fascinated actually by the power of the images and the sound taken out of the stories because I read the story and I didn't have anything like the feeling I had watching it that the elephant belonged to a different order of reality all together and we could only be saved if we could find our way... elephant.

KIRSTY WARK:
We won't say what happens to the elephant at this stage.



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