Newsnight Review discussed the stage adaptation of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami 's The Elephant Vanishes.
James Brown, did it help you understand what
modern Japanese life is like?
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.
We should say it's all in Japanese.
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.
There are huge Haruki Murakami fans.
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.
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
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
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.
I thought that was a dead heart to it. I
could have done without it.
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.
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.
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...
We won't say what happens to the elephant at this