In the days and weeks after the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant last spring, local poet Ryoichi Wago published his thoughts and fears through twitter, reflecting the feelings of a people at the time devastated by the ‘sea of rubble’ the tsunami laid in its wake. This powerful performance captures Wago’s words verbatim and brings together a broad selection of his tweets, weaving them into a tapestry that portrays the atmosphere in Fukushima during March last year.
British actor Stephen Connery-Brown is tremendous as the emotionally bruised and battered Wago, reading his poetry - translated into English by Jo Allen - alone onstage with a sense of desperation and terrifying uncertainty in the face of the scale of the tragedy. With no information from the Japanese authorities, Wago’s powerlessness is palpable in Connery-Brown’s sweating face, fighting to maintain sanity and reason in the heat of the situation. Aftershocks tremble without warning, portrayed in the sounds of Japanese drumming and music from two live performers, but it is the fear of the ‘rain of radiation’ from the nuclear plant that appears most striking.
As drama, I worried the piece occasionally felt flat; staging of the aftershocks felt a little tame and the use of the screen at the back of the stage only became truly effective towards the end when the embodiment of nuclear fallout, depicted with a headless Hannya mask, taunts Wago with ‘fear, anxiety and suspicion’. The show perhaps needed more authenticity – I would have enjoyed some recitals in original Japanese alongside the English, a translation that only occasionally captures lyricism. But as a portrait of a time when, for the people of Fukushima, the world seemed to be falling apart, this is powerful stuff.