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REVIEW: The Wife Who Spoke Japanese In Her Sleep, Stagecraft Theatre, Wellington. On until 31 March 2011

The Wife Who Spoke Japanese In Her Sleep
Written by Vivienne Plumb
Performed by Stagecraft Theatre, Wellington
Sound Design: Don Blackmore and Shannon Tubman
Lighting Design: Darryn Woods
Multimedia Design: Blue House Productions
Venue: The Gryphon Theatre, Ghuznee St, Wellington
Season: 21-31 March 2012
Review date: 24 March 2012
Reviewed by David Murray

While my intention is to write this review as objectively as I can just like I have done for all reviews I've written so far I have to say up front that I am a member of Stagecraft Theatre and many of the cast and crew of this excellent production I know and respect and have worked with in the past.

On the face of it The Wife Who Spoke Japanese In Her Sleep is a well-crafted and quirky comedy that deals with the increasing amount of Asian migrants living in Auckland, and New Zealand generally, and the prejudice and insecurity that many in New Zealand show when challenged with ideas and customs from other cultures especially when people close to them start to change as a result of the new influences.

The preset on stage as the audience was admitted to the auditorium consisted of a circular cyclorama with a wallpaper image projected onto it, and a bed with two actors already in it.

For me this production was the first time I've seen Christine Hunt and Stephen Fearnley on stage in major roles. Based on what I saw on stage, they were the perfect choice for this production with each giving effortless confident performances as Honey Tarbox (Hunt) initially a shy timid insecure housewife, and Howard Tarbox (Fearnley) a very protective, blinkered, recently-retired husband with a passion for gardening especially yucca plants. Over the course of the play we see Honey Tarbox take advantage of a change in her personal circumstances brought about by her speaking Japanese in her sleep. She ends up becoming a different person with little place for Howard Tarbox.

Along with the two lead actors we also see solid performances by Kerina Deas (Foreskin's Lament 2011), Chrispin Garden-Webster (Foreskin's Lament 2011), Kiel Taylor, Norie Parata, Clarissa Chandrahasen, Chris Tse, and Tanisha Wardle.

My only criticism with the minor roles is that a small number of lines were unintelligible due to the extremely heavy accent the character had (I'm assuming the accent was deliberate and it generally worked very well for that role) and the fast pace of the lines. But this minor point was more than compensated by the comic caricature of John Campbell in the "Campbell Live" scene (very well received by the audience), flawless execution of all the scene changes by the Kimono Girls (stage managed by Barry Meyers), the perfect choice of costumes (the Kimonos especially the one worn by Honey Tarbox were stunningly beautiful!) and the clever audio-visual component with Japanese writing moving across the cyclorama while Honey Tarbox talked in her sleep.

Throughout the performance the various projected images on the cyclorama were the key indicator to the audience for determining the locations of each scene ranging from the bedroom, lounge, kitchen, garden, and a downtown shopping mall, with minimal use of other objects on stage (mostly only a bed, a few black cubes that actors sat on, and a mobile kitchen bench) to the extent that once the bedroom had been established earlier in the play the director was able to do away with wheeling the bed onto the set for some of the shorter bedroom scenes.

Lighting: There were several production choices that impacted hugely on the lighting design for this production. Firstly, a choice was made to project images from behind onto a curved cyclorama with the cyclorama positioned of necessity about half way between the front and back of the stage. Another constraint was the choice to wheel a bed on and off stage for several scenes. While this was sensible for making fast scene changes, the combination introduced major constraints for the lighting design due to the need to avoid too much light spilling onto the cyclorama and the resulting unavailability of side-lighting as an option. Given those major constraints (side-lighting would have been the preferred way to light actors and avoid light spilling onto the cyclorama) the resulting design complemented the production with excellent choice of colors (an inspired choice of colors to go with the Kimono costumes!), seamless unobtrusive transitions, and most parts of the stage were well covered. The few that weren't could not have been due to the presence of the cyclorama.

Sound: good volume settings at no time causing actors to need to shout above it. The beginning of the second half could have been cleaner to make it clearer to the audience that the play was about to start again, but over all the sound-scape well complemented the production.

I was impressed with this directorial debut from Shannon Tubman and look forward to seeing future work by this up-coming director.

I well recommend this production.

David Murray

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