Theatre Review: The Bee

Just as I was about to write this review, just as I thought I had got my head around everything I saw in the theatre yesterday, I noticed one small fact I had failed to pick up on before. I had thought that the cast of The Bee at the Soho Theatre was entirely male. It was quite obvious that the “female” character was played by a man. What I hadn’t realised until I read it just now, was that the main character, Ido, was played by a woman!

The cast, comprising of Kathryn Hunter as Ido, Glyn Pritchard as Anchoku, Ogoro, Ogoro’s Son, and a Reporter, Clive Mendus as Dodoyama, King of Chefs, and a Reporter, and Hideki Noda as Ogoro’s Wife and a Reporter, were utterly brilliant. Every movement was so smooth and well-rehearsed, and I couldn’t fault a thing.

The Bee, directed by Hideki Noda and written by Hideki Noda and Colin Teevan, was out of this world. I had been in two minds about whether or not it would be my cup of tea, when I won tickets to go (thanks Japan Centre!). I’ll try any piece of theatre if it’s free, so I went along with an open mind, which was much needed as this wasn’t a straight-forward play.

With the tag line “What would you do if your wife and child were held hostage?“, I wasn’t expecting a family-friendly happy story. There was love and rape, pain and fingers being cut off. It was funny, sad and awkward, and looked deep into the human psyche. What would you do if your wife and child were held hostage? Would you talk to the reporters calmly and wait for the police to do something? Or would you inflict the same kind of pain on the attacker? I guess no one knows how they will react until they are put in such a situation. Even the most sane, boring business man could find himself quite enjoying the life of a criminal.

The small, intimate Soho Theatre was sold out, and a lot of the audience seemed to be Japanese. I found myself wondering how much the English version deviated from the original Japanese. But the script was excellently crafted, with humorous quips and some rhyming, poetic lines, which I believe is one of Noda’s trademarks. At times, I felt I could have been watching a modern adaptation of some Shakespeare play.

The play also included elements of dance and mime, which I found fascinating. I’m sure I watched half of the play with my mouth agape. One scene in particular will stay in my mind, and I found myself wishing I could photograph it. In this scene, Ido shoots a gun up to the ceiling and paper rains down like confetti. I think there was slow motion, and the lighting emphasised the effect of the fluttering paper. It was beautiful. Music was also used very cleverly, as was silence. No one ever spoke for the sake of speaking and, although a fair amount of props were used, the audience was also asked to use its imagination. One of my favourite uses of creativity in the play were the noodles, which the actors ate with a seemingly voracious appetite. The noodles, I believe, were actually rubber bands.

Here’s a trailer for the play, courtesy of NODA MAP:

Unfortunately The Bee has now finished its run at the Soho Theatre. It is currently on a world tour though, and the English language version will be moving on to Hong Kong next, and then Tokyo. The Japanese version will kick off in Japan in April with a different cast (wish I could go and see that!).

(All images in this post are borrowed from the Soho Theatre website)

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