The Park Theatre’s latest production, The Garden of Words, is a based on Makoto Shinkai’s beloved anime story and film, co-adapted for the stage by both Susan Momoko Hingley and Alexandra Rutter. An example of Anglo-Japanese theatre collaboration, cultural influences are blended together in this production, and listening to both the English and Japanese language on stage was particularly refreshing.
The plot follows the sensitive connection between Takao (Hiroko Berrecloth), a young teenager who aspires to learn shoemaking in Italy, and Yukari (Aki Nakagawa), an older mysterious woman he meets in a secluded Tokyo garden during rain showers. Five other cast members – Takao’s family members, other kids at school, teachers – circle around Takao and Yukari’s relationship as it grows and changes over time. All the characters are lonely in their own way, each having a personal story with potential, but unfortunately the characters, including Takao and Yukari, remained underdeveloped and unconvincing. This is due primarily to the script; the dialogue was often clunky and blunt, causing emotional moments to be these sudden, unjustifiable outbursts. The acting and line deliverance tended to veer towards being too over-the-top and unnatural. Pauses were misplaced resulting in a general feeling of awkwardness. All of this, along with too many rapid scene changes, made for the potential emotional impact certain moments to be cut short, as we were never really given a chance to become fully involved in any of the characters’ lives.
However, despite this, the enchanting visuals of the set design, by Cindy Lin, were really beautiful. The idea of a rain-soaked Japanese garden was executed superbly. Along with Mark Choi’s score, the lighting design by Rajiv Pattani and the sound design by Nicola T. Chang, one really felt transported in those certain garden scenes. The projection of rain drops on the stage floor, and the fluttering projected background of wisteria for example, worked well – at times it did feel as though rain was falling upon us. These garden scenes also involved the use of puppetry which was one of my favourite aspects of the production. I adored Mikayla Teodoro’s puppet bird, which was flown with such elegance across the stage by a cast member, adding a sprinkle of magic to the scene.
The Garden of Words is a visually delightful and ambitious stage adaptation of such a well known anime, so if you are a fan, I do encourage you to see it. While the script has its weaknesses, the overall impression is one of beauty and a unique exploration and crossover of culture and different artistic mediums.
The Garden of Words is at the Park Theatre until 9th September.