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Melb Fringe Review: ‘Panic’ by Kobe Abe

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This year’s Fringe line up includes the international collaboration between Theatre Moments (Japan) and Godot Art Association (Macau) presenting their dramatization of Kobe Abe’s short story “Panic”. Kobe Abe’s repertoire has nominated him to be a Nobel Prize for Literature candidate and thus adapting his work is by no means an easy task. However this team of five, directed by Chan Fei Lek definitely does an outstanding delivery.

The simple stage lit up to Chan’s introduction of the set, scene and story. It was delivered with such speed and excitement that I honestly missed most of the prologue’s content, although this may be due to my personal unfamiliarity with his accent. However there is no need to fret on missing out on any of the due action as subtitles were displayed onto the back wall as the drama unfolded in the three spoken languages of English, Japanese and Cantonese. Interestingly, the white text upon the black backdrop added a layer of intertexuality resulting in it to be a play on a play. You find yourself reading a short script unfolding letting your imagination flow into the piece, yet simultaneously the actors through their body and expression also tailor your imagination. This play between text, sound, body and mind were so powerfully integrated that minimal props needed to deliver its message.   

Without spoiling the dramatization, middle aged protagonist “I” is struggling in a complex world of job hunting and supporting his wife. An interview opportunity arises with “Panic Trading, Inc” to which very little information is revealed. However if your prospective employer peer pressures you into drinking and you wake up the next morning with him dead on the floor next to you, your hands covered in blood, you know you aren’t off to a good start.  His identity as a responsibly citizen is tormented and we are drawn into his personal nightmare of how he wrestles with doubts, distractions and deliverance.

A highlight of Panic is definitely the dynamic use of space, the ability to create depth despite spatial limitations. This was aided with the only prop they used – toilet paper. At times the rolls of paper represented mental or physical barriers whilst at other times being a hairdryer, phone or noodles. The varied use of the rolls was both entertaining and thought provoking, let alone never ending.

Finally as the performance draws to an end you are left with a plot twist that challenges your once moral responsible citizen mindset. The protagonist leaves you voiceless with the subtitles reading, “this is my advice”, as the stage snaps to darkness. The choice of right and wrong fall into your hands. You walk out thinking, Panic, profound theatrical insight not to be missed.

Written By: Sandra Lee, September 2014 

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