Interview with Francesca Le Lohé

What made you want to adapt Junichiro Tanizaki’s ‘The Key’?

I came across ‘The Key’ totally by chance in a second hand bookshop when studying for my masters in Scotland. I had read Tanizaki’s essay on Japanese aesthetics and tastes, “In Praise of Shadows”, so I thought I would give ‘The Key’ a read and was instantly gripped by the characters method of tacit communication. The novel is told through the husband and wife’s diary entries, written on the assumption that their partner will read them; the reader has to decide for themselves who to believe and what is only being said to manipulate the other character. I was interested in the intrigue, the secrecy, the scheming and also the reader’s experience. I wanted to take that reader’s experience and turn it into an audience experience: as the characters perform simultaneously, an audience member cannot hear and see everything, encouraging them to ‘fill in the gaps’ themselves and form their own impressions. Using small rooms within a house creates a really intimate atmosphere for a very intimate story; an audience member feels as though they are intruding on these private spaces, seeing something they shouldn’t really see and overhearing something they shouldn’t really hear, much like a reader of the novel prying into the couples’ diary entries. The performers are grouped together in separate rooms to physically represent how these characters are incapable of communicating directly with each other. It became clear that the aspects which inspired me most when reading the novel became fundamental to the staging of the opera. 

What are the biggest challenges you have faced when putting on THE鍵KEY?

The logistics of the project are pretty challenging. Since we don’t perform in concert halls or theatres, but private spaces or spaces which don’t usually host performances, you need to build a strong, understanding relationship with the venue and organize front of house and box office etc – once you have found a suitable venue that is, which isn’t straightforward either! Then having 10-12 performers and a creative team putting on multiple shows to limited audience numbers (due to the intimate nature of the piece) does create a financial challenge too. In order to cover costs we are dependent on grants and public funding, which all takes a lot of time and effort to apply for and manage.

How did you approach making the performance accessible to both an English speaking and a Japanese speaking audience?

When first developing the work, I knew I wanted to make it accessible to both audiences so I decided to use both Japanese and English in the libretto (the text which the characters sing and speak). As there would be no surtitles and handing a translation of the text to an audience member would be cumbersome and pretty much impossible to follow as audiences dip in and out and choose their own route, I decided each singer’s lines/sung phrases would alternate between Japanese and English. I wrote it in a way that if you understand one language only, you can still follow the story however the nuance of the Japanese and English lines are often different. I thought it best to avoid constant direct translation, making the piece more interesting and alluding to how the characters flit between the languages and their associated cultures and ideals, prompting the questions; which language does a character use to manipulate others, to escape from their prescribed identity or to show their true feelings? The universal languages of music and dance and the theatrical staging of the work also make it accessible to both audiences, and hopefully a wider audience still. The tension between the characters, their emotions and even their personality traits are expressed through their paired instruments, the way the roles interact with the space and how they communicate, or don’t, with each other.

The full interview can be found on the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation website (English only)