BWW Review: OZASIA FESTIVAL 2019: THE DARK MASTER at Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

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BWW Review: OZASIA FESTIVAL 2019: THE DARK MASTER at Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival CentreReviewed by Barry Lenny, Tuesday 29th October 2019.

The Dark Master was written and directed by Kurô Tanino, leader of Niwa Gekidan Penino, whose work, The Dark Inn, was presented here two festivals ago, to great acclaim. This production is based on an original story by Marei Karibu and the work of Haruki Izumi (éd. Terbrain, Inc.).

The location, this time, is a rundown restaurant in Osaka into which a hungry backpacker wanders. The chef is drinking Scotch, smoking a cigarette, and about to close, turning away a customer but, then, allowing the backpacker to enter. Limping into the kitchen, he cooks a meal that greatly impresses the younger man. After finishing the meal, the traveller is told that he is now running the restaurant, in spite of having no experience whatsoever and, when he tries to leave, he discovers that he is locked in.

The chef fits him with an earpiece so small that it is virtually invisible, and goes upstairs, with one of his conditions being that the backpacker must never attempt to go upstairs himself. The chef later uses that earpiece to tell the hiker how to cook each dish. He also divulges that there are 200 tiny cameras in the venue, as well as a few microphones that will allow the backpacker to contact him, if needed. The audience has conventional earpieces and can hear everything that the chef says to him. Don't worry, there are screens on either side of the stage showing the English interpretations for those who do not speak Japanese. Arigato.

As diners pass through the restaurant, gradually increasing in numbers as the word spreads about how good the food has become, he cooks the thirteen dishes listed in the menu, under instructions from the chef, titillating the taste buds of the audience as the smells waft around the Space Theatre.

As time passes, we see the apprentice gaining confidence and skills under the chef's guidance. His reward is an introduction to the joys of single malt Scotch, although no real Scotch drinker would kill the taste of a great whisky by pouring it over ice. He is given a bottle of The Macallan, a superb drop, take my word for it; they have been distilling it since 1824. The 12-year-old will set you back over $100, and the 15-year-old won't give you much change out of $200. This one is claimed to be a 1939 whisky but, of course, unlike wine, once bottled, whisky doesn't improve with time, hence the reason that it is sold by age, telling how long it was aged in oak barrels, but I digress. 1939 has significance in Japan, beyond being the date of the start of a world war. The chef also teaches him how to smoke.

The chef goes further in controlling the new cook's life. A prostitute arrives, already having been paid, and the chef is revealed as a voyeur. There has been a lot of comedy in the production to this point, but now it gets darker, with more than a touch of surrealism, which those familiar with the work of Kurô Tanino would, no doubt, have expected.

Then, a foreigner, arriving after closing time and using a mobile phone application to translate his Chinese to Japanese, has a meal and leaves, paying many, many times the price of the meal. When he returns at a later date, it goes from dark, to black, and, with a nod to Ouroboros, we come full circle. There is much happening below the surface, but you'll need a ticket to find out what all that means.

The central role of the backpacker is played by Koichiro F.O. Pereira, in a sensational performance, with Susumu Ogata, Masato Nomura, Hatsune Sakai, Kazuya Inoue, and Kazuki Sugita completing the wonderful cast.

Masaya Natsume's set is elaborate, highly detailed, and becomes a fully working restaurant, and it is well lit by Masayuki Abe. The sound, of course, is so important to the production, and Koji Sato has done a most impressive job. Live, close-up video of the cooking is provided by Tadashi Mitani and Nobuhiro Matsuzawa.

My hopes that all of the recipes would be in the programme were in vain. I will have to rely on my memory. It is only fair to warn you, though, that, after the performance, you are going to have an overwhelming craving for a meal of Japanese food. Luckily, Adelaide has a number of excellent Japanese restaurants from which to choose.

You have two more nights in which to catch this fascinating piece of theatre, so hurry.

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From This Author Barry Lenny