Hikikomori

‘On the other side of the door, outside my room, nobody misses me,’ says schoolboy Nils. Yet outside, his mother sits and worries what to do, and his father waits. As audience members we listen to the words through headphones. We can choose which of the three narratives to follow. Schoolchildren in the audience listen intently to the mother. The father’s thoughts are described as abstract and strange. I hear the words of Nils himself, as he describes his story of withdrawal from society – hikikomori – and self-confinement to his bedroom. It is estimated that in Japan half a million people have withdrawn in this way.

The success of this play comes from a mix of engaging storytelling and clever staging, all the while forging a feeling of isolation and absence of communication. The father and mother sit at opposite ends of the narrow strip along the front of the stage. Nils is offstage for much of the performance, in the bedroom at his mother’s end. She must knock to pass items back and forth into the room. A huge window in the centre of the set allows live action to be carefully blended with video and projection to create what are really stunning effects, to present a surreal and at times magical picture.

The production doesn’t pretend to offer solutions, instead asking questions. Are Nils’ parents really to blame for his isolation, both emotionally at home or socially at school? Is withdrawal a valid path in the transition from child to adult? To what extent is technology encouraging us to be physically alone although digitally connected? Can a moose outfit change your life? I would have been fascinated to hear the mother’s response. Then the father’s. Yet the restriction to one voice truly reflects the fragmented nature of our lives and the inability to know each other’s thoughts.

An impressive performance and a chance to see something very thought provoking, using innovative theatre techniques to tell a compelling story.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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