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Turning Japanese; Three years after launching, National Theatre Wales is about to make its international debut in Japan - with a drama staged in Japanese. Director John McGrath shares his Tokyo rehearsal diary with Karen Price.

Byline: John McGrath

enjoyable way to work. So a good few days, with one exception... after fighting the jet lag and staying awake through morning and evening production meetings from Wednesday to Friday, on Saturday I didn't have rehearsal until 1pm, so I didn't set my alarm. Bad idea! I was woken by a phone call from Markiko letting me know it was 1.10pm and everyone was waiting for me at rehearsals.

Monday, March 18 At the centre of The Opportunity of Efficiency is the character Ken Lomax - a business consultant who measures the effectiveness and efficiency of companies' processes and makes recommendations for re-structuring. The method Ken uses is called 'the brown paper exercise'. This is a real technique used when the staff of a company are encouraged to map its structures on huge pieces of brown paper displayed on the company's walls.

In our play, the brown paper exercise takes on a life of its own - turning almost into a living, breathing monster, until one lovelorn employee tears it down in a fit of rage.

Last week we rehearsed this main section of the play. And to help us we had a real 'brown paper' consultant come to talk to us about how he works and what his experience has been like going into companies. The cast were fascinated, particularly Kosuke, who plays Ken Lomax, and plied him with many questions about his work and life. He did seem a lot nicer than the character in our play - but of course he wasn't coming in to sack us!

I've continued often asking actors to direct each other initially. We decide together who seems to be the main protagonist for a section and they direct a first sketch of that scene or part-scene. This allows me to look at how the relationships are starting to shape themselves, and allows the actors to plot out the basic movements of a scene without having to go through translators for everything.

Sunday, March 24 I spent this afternoon at the National Noh Theatre. The highlight was a half-hour long dance by a rather large man in girl's mask duetting with a drummer and making very intricate, slow foot movements. Eventually a huge bell dropped on him and he reappeared as a snake demon in a red fright wig. It was hypnotic, fascinating and made opera look like a night out at the bingo.

This week, having sketched the whole play out, we went back to the start. The actors are all beginning to lock into their characters.

Wednesday, April 3 Yesterday the designers and crew worked to construct our 'in the round' set, with 360deg video projection. It's the first time the space has been used this way at the New National Theatre in Tokyo.

Last week we planned to start doing daily run-throughs, but after the first of these, Yuko, who plays the scientist Iffy Scott, and who is at the heart of the play, got very sick and had to be off rehearsals for two days. So we worked on lots of the scenes where Iffy is less important. However, we got lots done - including loads of work on the movement sequences.

We also tried out suggestions for Welsh tunes to feature in two crucial scenes of the play. We've chosen one well known oldie - Stereophonics' The Bartender And The Thief - and a very new track, Sweet Baboo's Let's Go Swimming Wild.

Tomorrow we begin 'technical rehearsal', where all the work with the actors joins up with all of the design and production work. We'll have around three dress rehearsals before our opening night on Tuesday, April 9 at 7pm Tokyo time, 11am in Wales.

Think of us while you're having your elevenses...

Collaborative work National Theatre Wales' first international production - and its first collaboration with another national theatre - is written by former Media Wales journalist Alan Harris.

Directed by John McGrath, The Opportunity of Efficiency is a story of small lives caught up in a global power struggle.

It is set in Wales but staged in Japanese at the New National Theatre in Tokyo from April 9 to 28.

It focuses on bio-scientist Iffy Scott who has made a discovery that could save millions of lives - but, it seems, not everyone thinks it's a good idea.

NTW will bring its trademark mix of digital, immersive theatre to the Japanese stage -the production will include 360-degree video screens around the auditorium.

The production will also form part of National Theatre Wales' second, month-long residency this year.

The company will work with artists in Japan to explore the themes of efficiency and creativity in Japan today.

And it will be searching for two Japanese artists to come to Wales next year to develop their ideas.


McGrath, centre, in rehearsals which have been taking place in Tokyo since March

John McGrath is directing National Theatre Wales' first international production in Tokyo
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Apr 6, 2013
Next Article:Activist forced to pull out of festival; In focus.

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