Review: The web of friendship in Kiss of the Spider Woman, Menier Chocolate Factory
Review: Child stars and showbiz neglect in We Need To Talk About Bobby (Off EastEnders), King's Head Theatre

Review: When truth is stranger than fiction - The Great Wave, National Theatre

It is a thrill ride of a play...It is also a play that leaves you emotionally battered and bruised.

Japanese teenager Hanako (Kirsty Rider) disappears from her local beach one stormy night but her sister Reiko (Kae Alexander) won't accept that she's been murdered or swept away by the sea which is what the authorities conclude.

The-great-wave-mobileherospot-2160x2160What unfolds is a story so extraordinary that if it were fiction you'd describe it as too far-fetched but Francis Turnly's new play is based on real events in Japan and North Korea in the late 1970s and 80s.

Using a revolving set to switch back and forth between locations we follow the aftermath of Hanako's disappearance - the impact it has on her family and friends - and the fate of Hanako herself.

Reiko, feeling misplaced responsibility for her sister's disappearance, makes it her life's mission to find out what happened to Hanako.

She is assisted by school friend Tetsuo (Leo Wan) whose life has simultaneously been ruined having been the prime suspect in Hanako's disappearance.

Until Reiko unearths the truth she can't move on and Kae Alexander gives a performance in which you keenly feel her desperation and anguish.

Hanako, meanwhile, is also marooned by the consequences of that stormy night, trapped in North Korea where she must indoctrinate herself into the ways of an alien society if she has any hope of returning home.

The freedom she enjoyed as a Japanese teenager is thrown into sharp relief against the bureaucratic and dictatorial regime of North Korea.

It is a thrill ride of a play that pits the frustrations of a family seeking answers against the frustrations of Hanako trying to appease her untrustworthy captors. 

But not only that it is a play about political and moral dilemmas, about the delicate nature of diplomacy and whether it is better to save one while potentially endangering many.

Given the current nature of the relationship between North Korea and the rest of the world it is also a timely play that offers a fascinating insight into unfamiliar events - at least they were unfamiliar to me.

It is also a play that leaves you emotionally battered and bruised from which there is, appropriately, no full sense of closure. This is a fascinating and nail-biting play and I'm giving it 5 stars.

Running time is 2 hours and 25 minutes including an interval and it's at the Dorfman Theatre at the National until 14 April