Monday June 17, 2024


By Diana Simmonds
April 8 2024

SOTOBA KOMACHI, New Ghosts Theatre Company at the Old Fitz, 6-13 April 2024. Photography by Karl Elbourne

Susan Ling Young (Komachi) and Wern Mak (A Poet) lead the cast of Sotoba Komachi, an adaptation from the 1950s by Yukio Mishima of a traditional Nō story. It’s one of his Five Modern Nō Plays and runs for 45 dreamlike minutes.

Mishima is an awkward presence – still – in Japanese and Western culture: he was simultaneously an author, poet, actor, filmmaker, and bodybuilder, and an obsessive patriot, man’s man, and would-be military hero. He despaired of what he saw as his country’s degeneration into democracy and Western excess after its WW2 defeat. He was tipped for the Nobel Prize but in 1968 lost to another literary great, Yasunari Kawabata. In 1970 Mishima attempted a coup with his small army but the real military was not interested. He committed ritual suicide (seppuku), he was 45.

His extreme right-wing activism would not be out of place today, however, and he remains a figure of fascination. Also fascinating because of who he was and his beliefs is the nature of this story and play Sotoba Komachi. One night a young poet meets an old woman in a park. She is ragged, filthy, and is collecting cigarette butts. To the two pairs of young lovers, she disturbs she is repulsive and weird. The poet is inclined to think the same.


She tells the poet she is 99 years old and once was beautiful. At first, he scoffs, then is drawn in. They enact a night from her youth when she fell in love with an officer. Despite her appearance, she makes it poignant and credible. The poet begins to see her as she was, or perhaps is, either a ghost of the past or their imaginations, but tangible nevertheless.

As in so many other myths and tales from across the world, there is danger in the poet’s realisation: if he tells her she is beautiful, he will die, she warns, echoing pillars of salt and underworlds through the ages.

Director Jeremi Campese (who also doubles as an irascible policeman) deftly utilises the Old Fitz stage (despite the looming presence of a baby grand piano for the night’s other show, Black, Fat and F**gy). Together with production designer Rita Naidu, and lighting designer Chris Milburn, they turn the space into a plausibly romantic night-time city park, with patches of lush grass, shrubs, and a couple of benches. Sound designer Johnny Yang keeps it minimal except for the occasional irritated chatter of a Lapwing – and birds symbolise longevity, luck, and love to the Japanese, so there has to be irony in the high-pitched calls.


As Komachi, Susan Ling Young is the central presence as she gradually transforms from aged crone to the vividly glowing beauty so many older women achieve. Her performance is delightful and sustained and she is ably supported by Wern Mak. His evolution from the blind arrogance of young alpha male to a man whose eyes are opened to an older woman’s fugitive beauty is equal to Young’s. Between them, they capture the play’s fleeting meanings with tenderness and conviction. However, the young couples and dancers at a ball are little more than set dressing but Rachel SeetoJasper Lee-LindsayMillie Hing, and Campese occupy the stage and their roles with grace and verve.

At $25 a ticket and 45 minutes sitting time, Sotoba Komachi is a rare diversion that fits the bill in the current New Ghosts production cycle of ideas and experiments – including two different shows per night. Treat yourself, you won’t regret it.



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