The Bite by Suzuki Atsuto


The Bite
by Suzuki Atsuto
Rich Mix, 5 March 2016

Review by Susan Meehan

Yellow Earth theatre company was formed in 1995 with the aim of developing the range of acting opportunities available to British East Asian actors. In March this year, it celebrated 21 years of theatre making with an international play reading festival, Typhoon, at Soho Theatre and Rich Mix in London. The plays were chosen following an open call for proposals, and Suzuki Atsuto’s The Bite was one of eight selected for a read through by professional actors. Suzuki is currently on a six-month grant from the Japanese government to study British theatre, and following the performance he took part in an audience Q&A.

What to do when the dolphin you are ‘keeping’ in a fish tank at home ‘evolves’ – animatedly introducing himself as meat-eating Putin, born in Okinawa to parents from the Sea of Okhotsk? Not only that, Putin is metrosexual as well, and keen to help with the cooking. A rather astute dolphin, Putin knows that his young owners, the Nekomiyas, are fattening him up with intent.

One day after work, Mrs Nekomiya returns home to find that Putin has managed to climb out of his fish tank. She is overcome by his downright adorability, and by the fact that he can talk. She wonders whether her dolphin-meat consuming husband will be persuaded to keep Putin as a pet.

Deftly flashing back to the Nekomiya’s recent honeymoon, the audience is shown insights into their nascent relationship, their foodie interests and their first encounter with dolphins. As the play progresses, is Mr Nekomiya himself starting to smell a little fishy?

Suzuki’s farce soon veers its attention from sushi-loving Putin to Mr Inoguchi, a rather weird and distasteful colleague of Mr Nekomiya, sharing with the other characters their obsession with food. Against all odds, Alex Chang who played Mr Inoguchi did manage to make his character strangely endearing.

Suzuki’s pacey dialogue captivates throughout, and the Q&A revealed that the audience were keen to read other themes into the text beyond the focus on greed, waste and fads. Among the queries, did Suzuki choose a clever, evolved dolphin to highlight human hypocrisy and arrogance when it comes to eating, and who is to say that it is fine to rear chickens to eat but not dolphins? During the Q&A Suzuki told the audience that he had an epiphany while eating a hamburger at McDonald’s – he began to wonder why he was eating the hamburger rather than the other way round.

The play is hilarious, surreal, topical, full of surprises and at times slightly unnerving. It can be enjoyed without having to dwell on its societal critique. The young, talented and striking Yellow Earth actors were compelling and versatile. Although it was billed as a play reading, and despite lack of time for rehearsals, the cast invested their roles with great energy and character. In the Q&A Suzuki – himself used to directing his own plays – expressed surprise at the level of physicality they achieved.

Leo Ashizawa as Putin stole the show, and Susan Hingley was particularly strong in her roles as restaurant manager and menacing caretaker. Franko Figueiredo’s direction was tight and spot on; flashbacks were deftly achieved with the actors skilfully going into reverse.

When asked how his work is received in Japan, Suzuki said that it tended to be more popular abroad in countries such as Korea as Japanese audiences prefer realistic plays to hyperbolic or slapstick theatre. When asked about the target audience for this play, Suzuki said that it is aimed at adults as there is not much youth theatre in Japan. The play was very positively received at Rich Mix and the audience laughed and was responsive throughout – Suzuki’s humour clearly travels, and this is perhaps helped by the fact that he has been influenced by international actors including Ray Cooney and Complicite’s Simon McBurney. He also mentioned Noda Hideki as an influence, and Noda too has had positive press in the UK.

Commenting on the experience of seeing the play in translation, Suzuki said that some aspects were the same but also acknowledged some differences. He felt that director Figueiredo was decisive and good at listening to the actors’ comments, while there is more of a hierarchy in Japan. Suzuki also said that Japanese actors focus less on the text and more on the action, making Japanese plays often seems a bit more like a pantomime.

As observed by one of the audience members, ‘The Yellow Earth Company actors gave the play a realistic sense of Asia and Japan and a sense of normality despite the play’s intrinsic weirdness.’
It was a delightful, energising eye-popping way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

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