Thursday, September 21

The Garden of Words – Park Theatre

This an unusual production to be performed in the United Kingdom being a stage adaptation of the Japanese Anime film of the same name by Makoto Shinkai. It tells the story of seven people, all seeking happiness in relationships but having to confront the realities of life in an urban environment which makes such connections difficult.  True to its animation origins it adopts a symbolic rather than realistic staging.  It is performed on a largely bare stage with a raised platform at the back and only a few white blocks which the cast efficiently moved around provide the necessary set for the various scenes.

At the back of the playing area of was a skeletal tree and a projection surface onto which beautiful images of Japan were played, including from time to time quotations in both Japanese and English.  Unfortunately, I was sat at the side of the audience and was unable to fully appreciate these.  The set designer and director do need to think about how these forward projections will appear to the significant proportion of the audience sat to the sides of the playing area.

One of the most effective parts of the production was the hauntingly beautiful music composed by Mark Choi, which is played almost throughout, often on a piano, which conjured a dreamlike atmosphere which perfectly matched the action.

The seven members of the cast, most of whom had obviously had a Japanese background worked very well together as an ensemble and although it is invidious to select out anybody in particular, I thought Shoko Ito’s facial expressions were a joy to behold.

This is a production much rooted in Japanese culture and was clearly attractive to the large number of Japanese people in the audience who no doubt appreciated the symbolism of some of the effects, frequent rain and the bird puppetry more than I did.

The play is very episodic as the three or four storylines within it are played out, but the continuity was excellent, and it did not drag.  “People are weird” was a byline repeated several times within the play, but in fact, I thought that the characters in this play were anything but weird, they were normal human beings acting out their lives and trying to establish relationships as circumstances contrived against them.

This is a beautifully presented unusual piece of theatre which is well worth seeing, even for those without a Japanese background, although I thought the narrative could have been stronger.

Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd

Reviewed: 15th August 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.