The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Stephen Earnhart and Greg Pierce, after the novel by Haruki Murakami
King's Theatre

Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami is a cult writer with an enthusiastic following across the globe. This makes his work ripe for adaptation and already Complicite have created a stage version of The Elephant Vanishes and Norwegian Wood has been filmed.

Like Complicite's staging of the short stories, this piece by American auteur for the stage, Stephen Earnhart, and his co-writer Greg Pierce is stronger on imagery than the English / Japanese text.

Indeed, though the duration is barely two hours and there are potentially 500 plus dense pages to fit in, much of what they present pays limited acknowledgement to the novel.

Many characters disappear or are conflated and the story itself is simplified, which might well be a necessity to keep the running time below 5–6 hours.

From before the house lights go down, it is obvious that this production will look great. Spread randomly across the stage are linear designs, film screens, a mini-kitchen and a fish tank.

Once the show is up and running, these are supplemented by computer-generated images worthy of a video game and puppets, which are used primarily when the protagonist, James Yaegashi as Toru Okada, takes monkish refuge in a deep well.

This all looks mighty stylish and is supplemented by atmospheric music composed and played by designer-dressed Bora Yoon.

The story as presented, in keeping with the design, is fragmentary and disjointed, using characters more as symbols than people. In part, this is almost inevitable with a novel that relies so much on interior monologue and the narration of lengthy stories.

We gather that Okada has been deserted by both his wife and his cat and receives help to restore a normal life from a mysterious woman in a stylish red hat, a sexy teen and an old man, respectively played by Stacey Yen, Maureen Sebastian and Akira Tajayama. Providing hindrance is James Saito's evil politician / brother-in-law Noboru Wataya.

In creating a setting for a thriller, the writers and designer / puppeteer Tom Lee cannot be faulted.

Where this production falls down is in failing to enable those that have not read the book (and quite possibly those that have) the opportunity to get into and, more importantly, understand the machinations of the plotting, leaving them mainly to enjoy the view.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher