This production by Akhmeteli State Dramatic Theatre is a lesson on how not to stage a drama in a foreign language. For most of the first half I have no idea what is going on because it’s impossible for me to watch the actors - speaking in their native Georgian - and read the very wordy, dark, frequently out of sync surtitles. The dialogue is projected onto a black curtain: hard to read at the best of times, the slides sometimes flash by too quickly; on other occasions the same slide appears more than once - the font even changes for one - and for a couple, some text at the top and bottom is cut off. There is also the problem with the translation itself, which contains several grammatical and spelling errors. Altogether, this is a frustrating experience, made worse because when I do manage to glance down at the performers, they are acting their socks off - the cast has been let down by some glaring technical faults. It’s interesting to compare this other foreign language shows at the Fringe, many in which the surtitles only appear when the actor is speaking those specific lines; in Wonders of Magic we have what looks like a whole chunk of play script with various characters’ lines all displayed at once. Sound is another problem as the music is either far too quiet or deafeningly loud. As I said, for the whole of the first half and the interval I am either frustrated or bemused.
So, on to the second half - Act II - and a story that’s easier to follow, relying as it does on slapstick comedy and less dense surtitles. The evening itself is intended as a celebration of the literature of Ryunoske Akutagawa, an early twentieth-century Japanese short-story writer. Here we have the story of Oshino, a man who collapses due to his legs having rotted away. Some officials question him and decide to attach horse legs to his abdomen. At night in bed he is attacked by fleas, much to the consternation of his wife, Tsuneko. There are a few comic moments - the wife questioning why he goes through so many socks, and his legs, which start galloping during the mating season. The five-strong cast (four males, one female) do their best and, now that I can actually watch them a bit more, they are energetic and even charismatic. Oshino, in particular, has a wonderfully expressive face, just right for this kind of absurdist theatre.
Publicity states that this is ‘a wonderful drama’ and that Akutagawa’s literature is ‘genius’. Yet this was a frustrating experience in all, especially considering the potential of the actors on the stage and the possibility of being introduced to and excited by a writer whose work I remain largely unfamiliar with. A show about the wonders of magic, someone has missed a trick here.