The National Theatre of Scotland - Dolls

The National Theatre of Scotland - Dolls

Found in translation

The National Theatre of Scotland’s first project of 2009 attempts to create theatre with British concerns out of a Japanese film, as Kirstin Innes discovers

Cinema and theatre have a long history of sharing stories. Plays are adapted into films, and every second blockbuster seems to flip easily into a Broadway musical. However, what tends to happen is a straight transfer of plotline and character. In adapting Dolls – Takeshi Kitano’s culturally-specific Japanese arthouse film of three intense, interconnected love stories – into a piece of theatre, what Carrie Cracknell of Hush Productions, working with the National Theatre of Scotland, is about to do is an act of translation.

‘When I saw the film in 2001, I was struck instantly by the images, because they seemed very theatrical,’ she says. ‘However, something that’s been very important to the whole production team, right from the start, was that the theatre piece shouldn’t become derivative of the film, so we’ve been looking for other languages that we can use to express that with.’

One of the stories in the film is about a pair of lovers wandering the earth, bound eternally by a red cord so the man can atone for the wrongs he’s done to his partner. In the film, this is told in starkly-coloured imagery across huge landscapes. ‘You don’t have the same type of skills in theatre,’ says Cracknell. ‘You can’t switch instantly between landscapes, we can’t make all of those big pictures. So we’ve tried to find alternatives that are uniquely theatrical, and something about the physicality of that symbol suggested dance and movement.’

Some of the other translations have been more cultural, finding UK equivalents for very particular Japanese social and emotional structures. The second story is about a yakuza, a Japanese gangster bound by specific codes of honour, who gives up his lover to protect her; he becomes a former Clydeside shipbuilder, played by Tam Dean Burn, who finds his way into the equally coded Glasgow gangland. The third story may take the audience by surprise: we don’t have anything exactly like Japan’s J-Pop industry, a huge production wheel of disposable teenage starlets, inspiring fervent, momentary mania in their fans, but we’re getting there. Zoey Van Goey, the sweet Glasgow indie band who provide the soundtrack to the first two stories, take centre stage, as their singer Kim Moore is ‘discovered’, walks out the band and into the spotlight, where she is manicured, shot to fame as a solo artist and then forgotten about, except for the love of one obsessive fan, with whom she begins a dangerous relationship.

‘When Kitano was making the film he was looking back over Japanese theatrical heritage, stories of huge passions, and using these big visual motifs as the starting point.’ says Cracknell. ‘What I’ve always been attracted to about Dolls is the hugeness of the sacrifices the characters make. These passionate relationships, and the enormous things the characters have to do to express that passion. And I think perhaps that sort of storytelling, that sort of grand emotion, will be quite alien to a UK audience, and as we try to reposition the stories within British settings, the strangeness of the size of these gestures is what the stories have become about.’

Tramway, Glasgow, Wed 28–Sat 31 Jan.


Tragic, lovelorn play adapted from the film of the same name by Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano. With live music and original score by Glasgow band Zoey Van Goey.

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