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Review: The Great Wave, at National Theatre, Dorfman

Powerful performances in Francis Turnly’s gripping play that explores fallout from the disappearance of a teenage girl

23 March, 2018

Rosalind Chao in The Great Wave. Photo: Mark Douet

WHAT happened one stormy night in 1979 when 17-year-old Hanako rushed out of the house after elder sister Reiko upset her?

Did friend Tetsuo kill her, perhaps accidentally, as the police think? Did a giant wave sweep her away?

Reiko saw three long-haired men on the beach before the wave came, did they take her?

Suspicion ostracises Tetsuo (Leo Wan) and his family. Reiko (Kae Alexander) feels guilty as though it were her fault and mother (Rosalind Chao) won’t give up hope that her child is alive and will return one day.

For the next 20 years they go on hoping, badgering the authorities while in parallel, Francis Turnly’s gripping play shows us what has actually happened to Hanako, forced into a new life in another country.

It is a tale of doctrinally driven bullying and brainwashing, of the effect of not knowing what has happened to a loved one and what people will do to protect family and different kinds of loyalty – all based on the real-life abduction of innocent people.

The emphasis is on plot rather than character but the women give powerful performances, especially Kirsty Rider as Hanako and Tuyen Do as the Korean woman with whom she finds herself paired.

Director Indhu Rubasingham makes the telling very clear cut. Perhaps Tom Piper’s revolving set with its many tatami mats is too grand and tidy for the home of a waitress but its sliding shoji screens perfectly match its secrecy and revelations while Luke Hall’s videos of waves and water ramp up the tension.

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