|Dying with Laughter: Halcyon Days|
Halcyon Days: Dying with Laughter
Last month, an inquest into the deaths of two people, whose bodies were found inside a car in Buckinghamshire, concluded that they had met on a suicide website and agreed to end their lives together. The coroner noted that he had been able to access information about their chosen suicide method, reportedly mixing chemicals to create a fatal gas, within three minutes of beginning an internet search. The incident saw the question of suicide websites again raised in the press, and whether these sites exist to provide a support or a facilitating function for people with suicidal thoughts.
It was a spate of similar of similar incidents, all involving young people in Japan in 2004, that prompted Shoji Kokami to write Halycon Days: "It was the shock of all those suicides that drove me to write it, but I have been thinking about living and dying since I first became a writer". And so this farcical tragi-comedy, which follows the attempts of a group of people to kill themselves, was born.
The setting, then, is pretty bleak: a suicide website has brought together Hello Kitty (Mark Rawlings), Masa (Dan Ford) and Kazumi (Abigail Boyd). But what unfolds is far from depressing, despite the play's messages of the complex reasons why people seek death, the need for human companionship (in life and in death), and the impact of social expectation and pressure on creating and maintaining identity. The flamboyant Hello Kitty, a closeted businessman, husband and father drowning in guilt and in debt, declares his wish to die "having fun", and thus begins a series of parties, barbecues and am-dram rehearsals, as the group occupy themselves with almost anything, it seems, but the task of dying.
The play (translated by Aya Ogawa) contains hints of social context that is, if not specific to Japan, perhaps more prominent: there Masa's apparent obsession with pleasing his customers (which extends to pleasing his suicide pact partners) and Hello Kitty's inability to express his true sexuality, trying to hide it behind marriage and children. It is interesting to consider to what extent the differing attitudes towards and the rate of suicide in Japan and the UK might inform an audience's reaction to the play and its characters.
At the core of the play is a play-within-a-play, a (re)telling of the children's story of the Red Ogre and the Blue Ogre (Naita Aka Oni). This allows for plenty of laughs, especially when Kazumi insists that Akio (Joe Morrow), the voice in her head (or the 'ghost' of a young man), be given a part. The ambiguity of the embedded play gives Kokami the opportunity to examine the ambiguity surrounding the issue of suicide and the scope for interpretation of the reason for suicide by those left behind.
The play asks some interesting questions and yet provides few definite answers. I left feeling thoughtful and pondering questions of companionship in suicide - perhaps provoked by the news of the inquiry conclusions. Is it our own unwillingness to approach the taboo of the death of the individual with honesty and openness that forces people to seek out counsel and companionship on the internet? How does the unending - but distanced - flow of death,disaster and tragedy into our own lives via rolling news, television and the internet cause affect our notion of the significance of our own existence - and death? And is it so hard to understand how the desire to die can exist simultaneously with the desire to not be alone at death?
This thought-provoking tragi-comedy has great performances by the four-strong cast and runs until September 18 at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. Part of the proceeds will be donated to the Japan Society Tohoku Earthquake Relief Fund.