Director Stephen Earnhart’s take on Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, is visually stunning, well acted and full of exceptional set pieces – but it’s also a self indulgent theatrical car crash that fails entirely to serve the source material.
It would’ve been impossible for anyone to do a straight adaptation of what is akin to a 19th century epistolary novel with huge sections of the book devoted to characters recounting their life stories; any retelling could only hint at the essence of the story. But all adaptations come down to choices and some of Earnhart’s are very odd indeed.
Much of the book is cut and several characters are expunged from the story or amalgamated but one of the most frustrating aspects is that those who remain have been de-boned, left as shadows of their written originals. May Kasahara, the tough, isolated self reliant teen has been transformed into a brittle Californian valley girl and Noburu Wataya the nominal villain is now a cardboard-cut-out political gangster.
The biggest failing is with the central character. Earnhart makes clear in the programme notes that he only has a peripheral interest in Murakami’s fondness for Raymond Chandler, but Toru Okada is fundamentally a Chandleresque hero, completely at the mercy of events but following them to whatever their conclusion might be. Earnhart’s Okada is a baffled fool, becoming frustrated and frankly whiny at the bizarre set of circumstances that he finds himself in.
Earnhart is clearly far more interested in the dream world of Murakami’s book and this is done brilliantly with puppets, and projected images, but his fixation on the unconscious means that the concept of permeability between worlds which drives much of the story is never fully explored.
All of this of course could be dismissed as the whinging of a disappointed Murakami fan and the question is – outside of its worth as an adaptation does the show stand up as theatre? The answer is – no. The puppetry, the projected images and the use of sound are all extraordinary in themselves but the show is never the sum of its parts.
This production has been seven years in the making for the director, but somewhere between the initial idea and its onstage realisation it’s become Stephen Earnhart’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle rather than Haruki Murikami’s. There’s no doubt that it’s a showcase for his visual and imaginative qualities but like a beautifully decorated flat which contains nothing of the owners personality it is, in the end, an empty vessel.