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Review of Hideki Noda’s One Green Bottle at Soho Theatre

One Green Bottle. Kathryn Hunter & Glyn Pritchard ©Helen Maybanks & Soho Theatre
One Green Bottle. Kathryn Hunter & Glyn Pritchard ©Helen Maybanks & Soho Theatre

One Green Bottle is a curious play about Boo, Bo and Pickle, a family that have become increasingly disconnected. They all want to go out for the night but unfortunately, someone has to stay home to look after Princess. Thus ensues a madcap evening of debate, trickery and persuasion, none of them willing to give up on their plans.

One Green Bottle starts out rather like a 90’s sketch comedy skit, with fairly base humour and caricature performances, but slowly morphs into something altogether different. As the plight of the characters grows increasingly desperate, we are led down a strange path that becomes darker and more sinister with every turn. People are chained to electrical outlets and dogs give birth on the living room floor. All of this may sound terribly exciting and yet somehow it’s actually quite tiresome. The farcical story holds little of interest and is never given the opportunity to develop past its initial construct. All involved seem confused about what sort of show this actually is and how best to tell it. The slapstick comedy so heavily relied on is so loosely choreographed that at times you wonder if anyone actually knows what they’re meant to be doing at all. The laughs come, but they’re diluted by a lack of clear direction and intent.

With such an accomplished cast you’d expect a more polished production but the actors seem in a constant struggle with each other. Kathryn Hunter comes off best, making brilliant use of her trademark physical performance style. She is measured and disciplined as the father of the family, Bo. Unfortunately, the slickness of her performance jars with the unpredictable antics of Hideki Noda who plays the mother, Boo, and also wrote and directed the piece. He’s clearly incredibly creative but it seems he may have spread himself too thin taking on so much of the burden of this play. Glyn Pritchard, playing daughter Pickle, provides little in the way of interpretation, with a few hair flicks and a stereotypical stance being the only signifiers for the teenage girl. The percussive accompaniment is provided by Denzaemon Tanaka XIII which effectively anchors the piece to its traditional Japanese roots. My only reservation is that he’s frequently underused and undermined by the use of pre-recorded underscoring and sound effects.

The design pulls no punches, with vibrant metallic wallpaper that sweeps down and across the floor adorned with oversized electrical appliances. The costumes perfectly complement this stylised world, using wacky wigs and exaggerated garments to remind us that this play doesn’t take itself too that seriously.

The play works best when at its most absurd. There are moments of pure joy as the characters break out into fantasy sequences, imagining what they’d be doing on their night outside the oppressive house. These moments are few and short-lived, but in them live the creativity and insane charm that could elevate this play to something truly wonderful.

With all farce, there comes a time when the jig is up and you have to allow for a resolution, but Noda’s refusal to allow this to happen means the play writes itself into a corner where it has no choice but to fizzle into nothing. One Green Bottle appears to be trying to say something about the selfish way we navigate our modern lives, although what and why are a mystery to me.

2 gold stars

Review by Dan Reeves

The European premiere of an absurd comedy from the team behind the international hit The Bee Boo, Bo and Pickle have all made plans tonight. But someone has to stay home and look after Princess.

People are waiting, start times are looming. No one’s budging and petty bickering soon spirals into a ludicrous battle of wills and, possibly, the end of the world.

Renowned Japanese writer, performer and Artistic Director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre Hideki Noda paints a portrait of a disconnected family on a self-destructive course in this satirical comedy about consumerism and technology in a ‘selfie’ society.

Starring Hideki himself, Olivier Award-winning actor and director Kathryn Hunter and Glyn Pritchard in an English translation adapted by Will Sharpe. With music and soundscape influenced by traditional Japanese Noh and Kabuki performed live by legendary Japanese Kabuki musician Denzaemon Tanaka XIII.

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