Soho Theatre, London – until 19 May 2018
Guest reviewer: Meredith Jones Russell
Princess the dog is pregnant, and someone needs to stay in to look after her, but father Bo, mother Boo and daughter Pickle all want to go out. So far, so straightforward, you might think. But the chaos that follows in One Green Bottle, including but by no means limited to a chair through a TV set, a key down a toilet, Mickey Mouse, a disembowelled sheep and an awful lot of chains, might suggest otherwise.
Hideki Noda’s family farce is an utterly bizarre semi-satire on the selfishness of modern life, with the three characters often literally trampling all over each other to get their own way to attend, variously, a parade at a theme park, a boyband concert and a tapas meal that may actually be a cult meeting.
There are plenty of laughs as well as a hefty dose of bafflement. Will Sharpe’s intriguing translation adds to the oddness with a mixture of amusing wordplay (Pickle is asked to re-fuse the wires, responding quick as a flash, “how can I refuse?!”) and juxtaposition of classical quotes with millennial slang.
The play is gender reversed, with men playing female parts and women male, and deals with the conflict of the older generation and the younger, as well as more traditional forms of theatre – taking in Japanese Noh as well as Shakespeare – versus pop culture references and slapstick.
Kathryn Hunter as Bo is superb; there can’t be many 61-year-old Western women who can so convincingly portray an insufferable, self-proclaimed ‘master of the classical stage’ Japanese patriarch, and even fewer who can also drop down into the splits at a moment’s notice. Her physicality and delivery are extraordinary and drive a lot of the play.
If anyone could overshadow her, though, it would be Noda himself, acting as well as directing, seen here in a huge wig and brightly coloured kimono as mother Boo, in full fan girl mode over her beloved pin ups Boys with Noise, ludicrously hysterical and wickedly selfish at the same time. You can hardly take your eyes off him, and he looks like he is having an absolute blast.
Glyn Pritchard has his work cut out performing alongside these two titans, and he brings witty humour as well as a dark surliness to purple-wigged, screen-obsessed teen Pickle, although the skipping about and hands held out delicately seem unnecessarily and affectedly ‘girly’.
Add in Japanese kabuki musician Denzaemon Tanaka XIII, slightly unaccountably deployed alongside a lot of pre-recorded music as well, and you have yourself a truly discombobulating evening.
It’s a zany plot but not a complex one, and the 70-ish minute running time is more than enough to get the gist. But while utterly bewildering, the performances are so spectacular and the play is such fun you can’t help but be a little bewitched by One Green Bottle.