A play by Open Cities
Written and performed by Virginia Baxter and Keith Gallasch
At the Gasworks Theatre, Melbourne, until August 2
Reviewed by Peter Boyle
Against a black backdrop, a long glass tabletop is supported by several large inverted cones made of gleaming metal tubing — suggesting at once the harsh and deliberate simplicity of traditional Japan and the ultra-modernism of the most technologically advanced economy in the world. On the table are settings that conjure up images of office and sushi bar. To the left is a set of small drums and to the right two musical keyboards.
Five people sit behind the panel and begin chatting with the audience even as we drift into the theatre. Two are musicians, Robert Lloyd and Claire Jordan. The protagonists are Virginia Baxter and Keith Gallasch, who are to recount and re-enact their first visit to Japan. The fifth person is Mari Shimizu, who periodically and sometimes mischievously translates/intervenes throughout the performance.
"This is Tokyo Two", announces Baxter in TV talk show style, and Shimizu instantly translates. So begins an apparently informal and disjointed (at first) story-telling which, with the music, takes the audience body and soul on Baxter and Gallasch's quirky first visit to Tokyo. The format is based on "bizarre late night Japanese TV panel shows", according to the promotional material, but it seemed to me more like a long and animated dinner table conversation — the sort that leaves everyone's food going cold because it is so interesting.
The tourist couple's recollections prove funny and intriguing from many angles. We find ourselves chuckling at the clumsiness of first contact between cultures, the dangerous curiosity of eager tourists, the false impressions, the comedy of different manners, the sexual politics of relationships at a turning point; we even take vicarious pleasure watching, through Japanese eyes, the "aliens" make fools of themselves.
Three subjects are woven into the play: a relationship that is in the "interesting" stage between romance and maturity, the cultural confrontations involved in travel and, metaphorically, the new political-economic relationship between Japan and Australia.
Tokyo Two conveys the first two with stylish originality, but the third seemed, on first impression, to be mired in cliché. However, this is less a comment on Tokyo Two than on the state of public discussion of the "Australia-Japan relationship".
Tokyo Two — a reworking of Tokyo/Now/Thriller (Sydney Performance Space, 1987), Baxter and Gallasch's first play about their Tokyo trip — questions any simplistic notions of what is Australian and what is Japanese. Mari Shimizu's role as a two-way interpreter of language and custom (which will be expanded if the play lanned) underlines this questioning.
Tokyo Two is a very funny, thought-provoking and sophisticated play which could transcend many cultural gaps.