SCENE IT: A convergence of opposites in THE LADY AOI

Barbara Loots

With the current staging of the THE LADY AOI at the Artscape Arena Theatre, Abrahamse and Meyer Productions gives South African audiences a taste of Noh style theatre, a form of classical Japanese theatre, with a bit of a modern-horror visual twist.


The concept of THE LADY AOI seems fairly simple: a woman in a coma is possessed by an unseen enemy. But nothing is as it seems; nothing is simple or subtle about this modern Noh by playwright and poet, Yukio Mishima.


As one would expect, the play has a true poetic cadence – every word measured and placed with precise, meaningful intent. With its deceptively simple concept, THE LADY AOI zooms in on the plethora of feelings invoked when confronted with a situation of “terror born from rejection”. It zooms in on these and then draws it in together to form a bomb that can’t but explode, fueled by the friction of the convergence of opposite emotion.


As Noh traditionally looks to song, dance and drama for its theatrical structure, it is no surprise that movement, lighting and sound have a strong presence in this current staging of THE LADY AOI, directed by Fred Abrahamse. Marcel Meyer’s characters (the erotically obsessed nurse and the scorned lover, Mrs Rakujo) draw strongly on these elements as they primarily drive the storyline. In contrast Matthew Baldwin’s Hikaru (ex-lover of Mrs Rakujo and distressed husband of the ailing Lady Aoi) is portrayed in a far more reserved, almost monotone, fashion. This juxtaposition in performance styles seem to be a nod to the intentional disparities that weave throughout the production.


The story plays out within, what appears to be, a demon-trap salt circle around the Lady Aoi’s hospital bed, where the living ghost of Mrs Rakujo attempts to haunt her to death in a banshee-like fashion. This symbolism is carried further through the puppetry, stage and costume design that keep the terror tightly encircled, giving you as the audience a safe-distance glimpse into the (occasionally humoristic) horror of the Lady Aoi’s dream state. It reminds of the type of experience I’ve come to associate with site specific productions, but here you get the multi-sensory experience from the comfort of a theatre seat.


The play gives structure to the unconscious grief and vengeance of Mrs Rakujo’s ego in a nightmarishly imaginative carnival of opposites. Love/hate, light/shadows, strength/weakness, terror/humour, all these aspects pull at each other as the play becomes the vessel for Mrs Rakujo’s psychopathy: The Lady Aoi’s dream-prison being the result of a hex born from a broken oath.


Within this contextual essence, the silences in the play weigh as heavily as the spoken word. The meaning held captive in those unspoken moments pulse throughout as it fuels the deathly tension that builds. Converging with this, the subtle lighting (designed by Faheem Bardien) and the anxiety fueled soundscape (designed by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder) result in something terrifyingly striking.


You can see this play “of love, of loving, of fight, of fighting” at the Artscape Theatre until 4 December 2021, with tickets available online through Computicket.


THE LADY AOI by Yukio Mishima is the first production in an exciting summer season of World Theatre that Abrahamse & Meyer have lined up at the Artscape Theatre Centre. Abrahamse & Meyer Productions present Starring Marcel Meyer and Matthew Baldwin Directed by Fred Abrahamse Music and Soundscaping by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder Lighting Design by Faheem Bardien Set, Costume, Puppetry Design & Construction by Fred Abrahamse & Marcel Meyer Venue: Artscape Arena Dates: 17 November till 4 December 2021 Performances times: Mon – Fridays at 19:00 and 15:00 and 18:00 on Saturdays Running Time: 55 minutes [no interval] Tickets: R250 per ticket Booking: Computicket