Interview with Alexandra Rutter

What interested you about THE鍵KEY?

As director of Whole Hog Theatre, a company specialising in creating Anglo-Japanese collaborative adaptations – The Key was of great interest. Upon reading the novel, it was immediately apparent that this was not only a fantastic work of fiction that examines an important and little-discussed world of the intimacies of a Japanese family, but that the work was a perfect fit for the style of Francesca’s composition. I knew I wanted to be involved immediately  – Francesca’s concept was so clever, and the story of The Key so well suited to her way of imagining a musical landscape, that as a theatre-maker who specialises in adaptation it was something I knew I had to be involved in.

How did you first become involved with THE鍵KEY?

I heard about the project during my first few years in Tokyo through Francesca, who was my colleague on the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation scholarship between 2015-2017. It began at a very early stage with Francesca reaching out to ask my opinion on the concept for the piece, staging, special world of the play and other dramaturgical questions. Very soon I officially came on board as a dramaturg and choreographer for the R&D, and thereafter as dramaturg with Whole Hog Theatre a supporting organisation.

What were the greatest challenges faced when working as dramaturg on THE鍵KEY? 

The greatest challenges were threefold: managing the scale of the project with a skeleton team, getting across the complexities of the narrative in the context of three (different) venues, and getting the balance right between form and content. We were constantly balancing the merits of creating a work with complete freedom for an audience to traverse as they like, and creating a work that honours the strength of the story and composition by giving it the certain amount of structure so that the audience can fully appreciate it. At what point, if ever, does the form of the piece become too incongruous to get across the fundamentally important themes of the story? Because the performance was in promenade with parts of the performance being activated by the audience entering a room, no two performances were the same. In this way, we constantly had to check ourselves and ask at what point the style overtakes substance leaving it too easy for an audience to miss so much of the story that they are unable to come out with an active understanding of the themes presented. It was a huge project to manage with limited resources and the creative team and cast did a really fantastic job.

How did staging THE鍵KEY in different houses affect the performance?

In Japan, the two different venues largely meant changes to physical space and differences in how the audience were likely to move, involving decisions on our part about how (if at all) the audience were guided in the space. In each venue, we had to reassess how a person might naturally move through the space and be sure that rather than bringing a performance from one space and try to make it fit in another, that we instead altered the performance to work with, and not against, the nature of the space itself.

However, in London the whole context of the piece was different so we adapted the story to make cultural-social sense for the space it inhabited. In order to continue to explore Japanese characters and the juxtaposition of Western and Japanese culture in an authentic way and still have this make sense in the context of a British home, we had to to consider many things. For example, how British architecture is different from Japanese, and how this changes the inter-personal living dynamics. It also made a big difference that the London venue is a private family home, whereas the Tokyo spaces are not residential but are open to the public. For example, in the Tokyo performances the story follows a traditional Japanese family in a traditional Japanese house; the character of the wife usually wears kimono but as her situation and feelings towards her husband change, she begins to wear western dress more frequently. In the UK, it did not make sense to ask an audience to imagine the London house they were occupying was in fact, a traditional house in Japan where a woman might wear a kimono. However, it was paramount to explore the wife’s traditional Japanese sensibilities and how these are influenced by western culture. So we adjusted this narrative and the story in London followed a Japanese-British family; the wife begins wearing quite a prim, smart, modern-day Japanese fashion dress but as her feelings change, so does her clothing and she changes into a more colourful, close fitting and casual dress.  With this decision came an important platform to explore issues of identity in Japanese-British families within the context of Britain today.

What future developments would you like to see for THE鍵KEY? 

I would love to see THE鍵KEY reach more audiences internationally and somehow be able to cater for a larger audience capacity without compromising the intimate nature of the piece. I’ve heard some early ideas for exploring the voyeuristic nature of the piece by working with video footage, or security cameras which seems like a really apt dramaturgical development that can help audiences experience the work in a different way. I am particularly excited about some ideas of creating a virtual experience of the piece, perhaps using VR and/or live-streaming as this is so relevant to the current global situation. It would also speak to a post COVID-19 world in terms of creating art that allows for social distances and explores the boundaries of how we enjoy, and what can be considered to be, theatre.