Hanako: Desire & Other Secret Weapons (Brisbane Festival, Brisbane Powerhouse and Belloo Creative)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre
September 13 – 17
Like many a festival show, experience of Belloo Creative’s “Hanako: Desire & Other Secret Weapons” requires an open mind… and, also, in this case, some comfortable shoes as the initial section of the show takes place behind the Brisbane Powerhouse’s Visy stage, as audience members stand around in observation of a crouched, spot-lit girl with her head hung long. Silence eventually shrouds the scene as we watch and wait, interrupted only by the periodic passing train sounds from the stage proper. As she raises her head, her face flashes red lipstick and eye shadow as the only colour in an otherwise muted pallet of greys, before she collapses again having plunged a sword into her stomach in ritual suicide.
As audiences then move to their seats in the theatre, it is under instruction to search for the truth between reality and fiction… a search which is certainly realised by the end of this vivid, intelligent and intense work. Sparked by a classic Japanese tale of dominance and desire, Caroline Dunphy & Katheryn Lyall-Watson’s “Hanako: Desire & Other Secret Weapons” is a dynamic new performance that explores a girl’s battle to escape into the future while warring adults try to contain her in the past.
It begins with Hanako (Kimie Tsukakoshi) as a flowerchild Geisha. Like Bette Davis, she’s precocious and she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush, but she is also very beautiful in character and expression. Some time later, Hanako is discovered by Loie Fuller (Caroline Dunphy) who is determined to make the actress the star of a Japanese touring company and deliver devastating death scenes in each performance in guarantee of a nightly showstopper. But when Hanako meets a music boy (Zachary Boulton), she no longer wants to perform, and so starts her precarious journey through a frenzied stage world where all of her creators fight to control her destiny.
Much is packed into the contemporary production’s 65 minute running time as it takes this classic Japanese tale of Ota Hisa, a dancer and favourite model of Auguste Rodin, who created a series of masks of her, the largest number of portraits he ever made of a single person, into a new reality. Shades of other works feature strongly; indeed, the work represents a hybrid of styles from moments of “Madame Butterfly” to “Kill Bill” moves and even some Japanese game show sensibilities. From theatre to martial arts and urban fashion, there is something on offer for everyone, including even some mochi, served during a little break in proceedings.
The production is helmed by an international cast. As the urban myth girl Hanako, Tsukakoshi is dynamic and commanding in her stage presence, particularly in pivotal moments like her dramatic on-stage suicide re-enactment. And she is also strong vocally in delivery of a powerful musical number. In balance to this, Boulton and Noriaki Okubo provide some light-hearted moments that work well in conjunction with the silliness of the ‘80s song snippets that sneak into the soundtrack without expectation. Working with Jason Glenwright’s vigorous lighting design, Dane Alexander’s imposing soundscape dominates scene transitions. But there are also moments of quiet too, such is the complexity of this fascinating but still nicely modest work (for the audience is reminded in its ending, truth is stranger than fiction).
“Hanako: Desire & Other Secret Weapons” represents all that is wonderful about festival works and the rich diversity of theatrical conversation that they generate. This is a show for the curious and creative alike. Like Belloo’s previous, acclaimed “Motherland” it sits comfortably in its text, but never forgets the honour of the truth behind mythology, making its World Premiere as part of Brisbane Festival something of which its local, all-female, award-winning independent theatre company should be immensely proud.
Photos c/o – Barbara Lowing