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Wednesday 18 April 2018

The Great Wave, Play written by Francis Turnly, directed by Indhu Rubasingham, National Theatre London, 8* out of 10

The Great Wave is a suspenseful political thriller based on recent true events, which successfully juxtaposes this with the moving story of a small, close family in Japan.  It holds the audience's attention from beginning to end.

1979: Teenage sisters Hanako (Kirsty Rider) and Reiko (Kae Alexander) live with the mother Etsuko (Rosalind Chao) in a house near the Japanese coast. After a typical teenage sister quarrel, Hanako and Reiko are caught up in a storm and a great wave. Hanako disappears. Has a local boy from Reiko’s class who claims to have seen her that night on the beach murdered her? Has she been swallowed by the great wave? Hanako’s body cannot be found but her mother feels that Hanako is still alive. She and Reiko will not rest until they find out what has happened to her. It will take years before they get a first clue which points to Japan’s neighbour North Korea. Moreover, their tireless efforts  to find answers will be frustrated over decades by successive Japanese governments' "Realpolitik" towards the volatile neighbour North Korea overriding the duty to individual citizens in distress.  

At the heart of this play is the plot hatched by Kim Il-sung the President of the “Democratic Republic of Korea” (North Korea) and his courtiers. Like his grand-son Kim Jong-un, the current President, he is at the head of a brutal and unscrupulous regime that demands adulation and spreads fear and preemptively deploys mental and physical cruelty. Playwright Francis Turnly has managed to write a suspenseful political thriller based on true events, which successfully juxtaposes this with the moving story of a small, close family in Japan. Through no fault of their own find mother and daughters find their lives permanently changed by a mysterious secret service operation almost too fantastical to be believed. With the help of a great set by Tom Piper and Indhu Rubisingham’s straightforward direction production tells the story in a manner which holds the audience’s attention from start to finish. There are strong acting performances by Rosalind Chao, Kirsty Rider and Kae Alexander. The Great Wave is a good example of how a modern political story can be told in an engaging and deeply human way that we can all share rationally and emotionally irrespective of “identity” and culture.

For those who have missed the short run of the play at the National Theatre's Dorfman Theatre, one can hope that this play, which had its world premiere on 15 March 2018 will transfer to another London theatre in due course.

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