21 March 2018 (released)
24 March 2018
The world premiere of 'The Great Wave' is thankfully in excellent hands. Francis Turnly’s political thriller which brings to life a family's worst nightmare, is utterly hair raising and engaging throughout. Losing a family member and not knowing what happened to them is quite possibly a fate worse than death, the searing lack of closure uncompromisingly depicted against the backdrop of one of the most absurd political and diplomatic situations.
In the autumn of 1977, people began disappearing from Japan’s coastal towns and cities. There were no traces and no bodies. Hanako and Reiko (beautifully played by Kae Alexander and Kirsty Rider) have a cruel sisterly row which results in Hanako making a hasty exit to the tempestuous beach and following a dare, she disappears.
The idea was to train these abductees to spy on the state’s behalf when sent home. That didn’t quite work to plan so they changed tactics, instead immersing North Koreans in Japanese culture and language so they could pass as Japanese. Japanese diplomats denied knowledge of this but later transpired they knew but felt they had no leverage due to previously colonising everyone in their vicinity. In a sense, it's an amalgamation of more than one story and one that desperately needs to be heard.
Tom Piper’s revolving cubic set allows us to see both Hanako and her family back in Japan. The two realities exist side by side, cruelly unaware of each other. A particularly poignant moment was when Hanako’s mother records a message to her beloved daughter and Hanako watches it. Rosalind Chao plays the mother with a lightness of touch, conveying the absolute horror without a hint of melodrama.
Dictatorships are absurd and ripe for mercilessly mockery but the damage they cause destroys the DNA of entire nations and generations. The use of humour give us much needed respite however there was one instance, when the guards in the North Korean prison tipped into a comedy double act. This was our first insight into what should have been a regime banished to the history books and is so rarely seen on stage. Hanako is is lying on the floor, traumatised and filthy following her violent kidnapping. The absurdly aggressive manner of the guard and soldier prompted quite a few laughs which pulled focus from the horror of the situation. Despotic regimes deserved to be mocked mercilessly but here, it seemed a little too early in the play. That was the only disjointed moment of a near perfect production. For the most part, 'The Great Wave' oscillates between moments of levity and wit to best tell this extraordinary story.