Review: Gaijin at QUT Gardens Theatre

23 June, 2011 by No Comments

The word Yakuza written in Hiragana

Image via Wikipedia

Gaijin, currently playing in a very short (3 day) season is the brainchild and production of Director/Designer Ben Knapton and Rock and Roll Musical/Stand-Up Performer/Sound Designer Dave Eastgate.

The play is essentially a series of snapshot episodes played out by various characters involved in the story of a young Australian gaijin (foreigner), Chris Thompson, who has gone to Japan to work in a theme park. He falls in with a Yakuza family member and, after a series of brushes with the underworld, is jailed for possession of drugs. Chris ends up in a notorious Japanese prison where, he is told, he will ‘cry every day.’

The play begins with a long monologue by a young Japanese man, Akira. He explains that he has grown up in a Yakuza family – the Japanese equivalent of the Mafia in other cultures. Although of Yakuza, he has not followed their ‘way.’ Chris Thompson’s one hope is the friendship of Akira who has befriended him and for whom Chris has apparently done favours. We see Akira on his knees at the play’s end pleading before a Yakuza prisoner ‘boss’ (Father) – a wonderful tattooed torso projection – to have Chris spared some of the prison’s horrors.

The play is built from a series of monologues accompanied by some pretty impressive multi-media and lighting and sound effects. The design and manipulation of the production’s projection technology with its live action is most impressive and, arguably, Gaijin’s strength. The big design team credited in the program is testament to the production’s focus. Lighting Design is by Jason Glenwright, whose work is gracing lots of Brisbane stages at the moment. Multimedia Design is by Nathan Sibthorpe and Ben Knapton

Dave Eastgate’s characterisation – the suite of Japanese and gaijin characters who weave in and out of Chris’ story – is strong and assured. His Japanese choreographer and the American theme park manager are particular delights. However, I did have some difficulty simply understanding a couple of his other thickly-accented Japanese English characters and, as a result, suspect I missed a few key plot points as they went by. Loved his musical ‘interludes’ as the drugged-out ‘Chris’ struts the stage howling into a microphone at a concert and, as himself in the closing ‘Epilogue’ moments of the play.

Direct audience address is far more satisfying in Gaijin than a couple of awkward-feeling scenes between one character and an invisible ‘other’ on stage, and when off-stage action is presented through sound effects and disembodied speech whilst the stage remains empty. Empty stages make me nervous.

Gaijin is a good-looking, smart piece of theatre-creation and a vehicle for the undoubted talents of Dave Eastgate and some pretty hot audio-visual designers. It is well worth a visit down to the QUT Gardens Point Theatre.