Review: Samantha Chester, HIRO: The Man Who Sailed His House ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 23 June ·
Review by Steven Cohen ·
“Strange things happen in this world,” Haruki Murakami says. “You don’t know why, but they happen.” This could be the maxim that guides Hiro: The Man Who Sailed His House, directed by Samantha Chester and created by Chester with Humphrey Bower, who is also one of the work’s two performers.
Lurching between reality and fantasy, where good and evil are both disconnected and inconsequential, our hero, Hiro, is left to travel through a labyrinth world, in which he learns what it means to be human.
Hiro: The Man Who Sailed His House tells the true story of Hiromitsu Shinkawa, who was swept ten miles out to sea by the 2011 Japanese tsunami, clinging to the roof of his house. Based on the essay by Michael Paterniti, the play adapts both surrealist elements of traditional Japanese theatre and contemporary dance, to create a fantastical interpretation of this remarkable tale.
Chester’s composition sees a dancer (the impressive Kylie Maree) weave paper puppetry, and light and dreamy movement around Hiro’s penetrating monologue, poignantly delivered by Bower. The effect is akin to being thrown into a Murakami novel, replete with dreamlike sensations, but tempered by the realism of a routine sit-down meal.
Hiro’s entire soliloquy is conducted in second person, employed to bring the audience into the drama. While this technique can be a risky proposition, the use of Maree’s precise puppetry to portray Hiro’s alter-ego helps to control the device and deepen the story. It works, perhaps, because the story is an existential one, concerning the dichotomy of the human condition: good and bad, joy and sadness. The play becomes a meditation upon this dualism through Hiro’s intractable conversation with himself.
Colour and light, created by set designer Rhys Morris and lighting designer Phoebe Pilcher, heightens the transition between dream and reality. Morris’s magnificently crafted three-dimensional model of a ship (or are they pigeons?), that changes colour as the tempo shifts, acts as a wonderful counterpart to the reality that is Hiro’s drifting life.
In many ways Hiro resembles Lewis Carroll’s Alice, navigating Wonderland. He is caught between sanity and insanity, in a place where his paper shadow often resembles wild kabuki poses and where he finds himself ghost waltzing to eerie sounds. Unlike Alice, though, we are drawn to Hiro not because of his adventure, but because of his unimaginable survival. There is something in the story that taps into our deepest fears.
Hiro’s story is a difficult one to tell without falling into Hollywood vice. Chester, with co-creator Bower, has blended two different art forms into an engaging and highly imaginative work about one man’s quest, not only to survive, but to live.
Pictured top: Humphrey Bower and Kylie Maree in “Hiro”. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography .