Downtown Tokyo-based theater company, tpt (Theater Project Tokyo)’s 50th memorial production since their foundation in 1993 is “A Number,” the latest work by Caryl Churchill, one of Britain’s most important and prolific contemporary dramatists. Written and premiered in 2002, this work is about human cloning and fundamental questions it exposes about the age-old issue of nature or nurture in the formation of an individual’s character.
Tpt this time called on one of the most engaging young directors in British theater, 31-year-old Sacha Wares, as director — her most recent work includes co-creating and co-directing “Guantanamo,” the controversial Olivier Award nominated play about the prisoners recently held in the Guantanamo bay camp. The company cast the young actor Toru Tezuka to play three cloned sons with veteran Katsuya Kobayashi as the father, Salter.
One drizzling spring evening recently, I visited their rehearsal room in tpt’s homeground, Benisan Pit theater complex and asked Sacha Wares about her first production in Tokyo.
Why did you chose to direct “A Number”?
Even though it’s a really short, simple play, it has got lots of layers . . . when tpt contacted me I thought it was so good to do here because the relationship between fathers and sons is as meaningful here as in Britain, it is totally universal. And also, I knew the size of the Benisan Pit, I thought, because it is such a small and intense play, it would really suit the space as well.
You said there were many ways to do this play, so what is its main theme to you?
For me . . . it is a very ancient, universal theme for drama . . . it is the father’s journey to self-realization.
So is it about the issue of nature versus nurture?
The bigger theme is how hard it is as a person to look at the truth about yourself. For 35 years the father has told lies and has been protecting himself with all these stories.
The whole way through the play, he keeps being given opportunities to tell the truth, and if he did tell the truth, then he could fix things and make them better. But he’s got so used to hiding, that it is his instinct to just tell a lie to protect himself, and that’s his tragedy. He’s not able to say I was wrong, I was weak, I’m sorry . . . he can’t say any of those things.
I heard from the tpt staff that you cared very much about the details of the Japanese translation. Why was that?
It’s such unusual play, the way it’s written, because there isn’t a single complete sentence in the original script. So, somebody starts a thought and then is interrupted or interrupts themselves. So it is a really unusual way of writing, where the actor has to work out what would the character say, if they finished, and why don’t they finish. And usually, they don’t finish because that would mean telling the truth, so they start something and realize “oh no, I have to tell the truth,” then they start something else. So, the structure of the language is all about evading and hiding, which makes it very difficult for a translator and of course, Japanese grammar and English grammar is totally different, the verb comes in different place. So, for example, an incomplete sentence in English that is “I was hoping . . .” in England we would be thinking, then, “What were you hoping?” But if you translate it directly into Japanese, it becomes a finished sentence. So the meaning is totally different. So we had to work very hard with the translator (Keiko Tsuneda), guessing what the rest of the sentence was in English, and then constructing a Japanese sentence which would allow that.
When I saw the rehearsal today, you worked with the actors (Katsuya Kobayashi and Toru Tezuka) so closely like friends. Is it your way of working?
Yes, but I might be a bit unusual in that. My feeling about it is that it is something you do really collectively together. It’s a journey you all go on together. A director’s job is not to teach or instruct, but it is to go on the journey with the actors and just offer “I see this.”
How about the stage set, or costumes this time?
It’s going to be quite simple, because the play is five scenes set in the exactly same place with only two people, so the demands of the play are very small actually. But what we’ve been exploring . . . is how can you start the play from the moment the audience enters the space, so that you don’t wait until they sit down and then the play starts. You ask the audience to enter a world. So, we have designed it so that when the audience come in, they walk down a very very long and low corridor, like a corridor in a house and at the end of it, they can see an image of the boy’s room . . . so it is like they have walked into the father’s memory or his world and past some images from the past.
What would you like to be doing 10 years from now?
I would like to be working in a way that is not confined by the boundaries that you get in theaters, which is that you must have an audience on this side or the show must start at this time . . . I find those rules very difficult, so I would hope in the next 5 or 10 years, I would have found a way of working, maybe more in a live art area . . .
What do you want to take from this experience in Tokyo?
I am very interested to see what the audience is going to make of this particular play and also of this way of organizing the space, to see how it affects people when they are watching the stage. It’s so interesting to work with actors whose training is different, who have a different approach to language, because every day you learn something new and I see there are different ways to approach a text. All of that is incredibly valuable to me as an artist.
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