Japanese director lets Vietnamese cast emulate their own emotions

August 11, 2022 - 08:53
They gather in a spacious room, full of light. Each holds a script, losing themselves the roles they are assigned. Sometimes they read out the dialogue straight off the script, as no one has learned it by heart yet.

Lê Hương & Hồng Vân

They gather in a spacious room, full of light. Each holds a script, losing themselves the roles they are assigned. Sometimes they read out the dialogue straight off the script, as no one has learned it by heart yet.

From time to time, he stops them to remind or give remarks on their acting.

This has been the usual sight in a rehearsal room of the Youth Theatre in downtown Hà Nội in the past few weeks, as Japanese director Tsuyoshi Sugiyama leads the outstanding Hedda Gabler play by noted Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen with the theatre’s artists.

“We are in the ice-breaking period when the actors start to learn the dialogue and try to understand the characters,” director Sugiyama told Việt Nam News.

“I was very worried at first when being asked to stage the play with the theatre’s actors,” he said. “The play was written 130 years ago by a Norwegian writer. How I can inspire people between 20-40 years old to share the same feelings with the characters? Then I spoke with the actors and found out that they have the same problems in modern Vietnamese society. I was relieved as the play mentions present problems as well.”

Tsuyoshi Sugiyama explains the roles to his cast. — VNS Photo Lê Hương

The director worked with the artists in Uncle Vanya, another play by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), a few years ago. The performance won the Best Play Award at the International Theatre Festival in Việt Nam 2019.

“The story of Hedda Gabler is very simple but has a deeper level of feelings in comparison with Uncle Vanya story,” he noted. “Last time I had to explain what the writer meant in Uncle Vanya. This story is much simpler to understand but not as easy to express the feelings of characters.”

In this first stage, the director lets the actors free to act. He has not guided them on how they should act, or what props to use.

“I let them act as what they feel about the characters. It’s like going in a circle, but it will be quicker if, in the last stage, I figure out how they should act the roles," he said. "Then it will be very quick as they have grown deep emotions of the characters.”

Youth Theatre stars rehearse Hedda Gabler. — VNS Photo Lê Hương

Sugiyama said they will certainly find a way to decorate the stage both beautifully and exactly to the script, to stimulate the audience’s creativeness.

Love for Việt Nam

Sugiyama commented that artists in the Youth Theatre have many features to describe.

“All of them are suitable for the career,” he remarked. “Sometimes I feel that they are like children, with no limitation. They can think and feel the characters in many ways and can express the roles in various ways, too.”

Sugiyama said he highly appreciates the diligent research of the artists.

“They introduce their own explanations for the characters, for the plays. Their explanations get more and more profound. I strongly believe that with their efforts, the play will succeed,” he said.

Sugiyama wants to make more contributions to Vietnamese theatre. — VNS Photo Lê Hương

The director has been to Việt Nam many times, the longest time being three months long.

“I want to stay to work in Việt Nam even longer this time,” he said. “The food here is so good. I like the hot weather.”

“Vietnamese people are agile and straightforward,” he remarked. “They will speak out if they do not feel ok about something. They are also open and caring of others.”

Sugiyama said he wants to continue to learn about the goodness and even the bad things of Việt Nam.

He said he likes the Old Quarter with its houses with an ancient culture, though the area is sometimes full of tourists.

“I like strolling in the quiet old streets. I also like parks with many trees and lakes, which bring me peace and tranquillity.”

The director said he wants to travel around the country to Sa Pa with various ethnic minority groups and coastal cities like Huế and Đà Nẵng.

“I like vermicelli with fish, phở, nem and coffee. Local coffee is rather strong but we don’t have that in Japan so it attracts me. I will use up my time to explore more delicacies that I haven’t tried.”

Actress Đinh Thu Thủy, who plays the leading role of Hedda Gabler in the play, said she and her colleagues are quite comfortable working with the director.

“I strongly believe that we will succeed as he guided us last time in Uncle Vanya and we won the best play award,” she said. “We are working in a close group together to find out the best ways to express the characters’ feelings. The director then will find out his own way to bring Asian features to the Norwegian play.”

Thủy said her role is quite hard, which requires working with other artists in other roles in the play.

“When taking this role, I know that I needed more knowledge. I should be more creative, acting with greater care to make an interesting Hedda Gabler with the special marks of the Youth Theatre,” she said.

Sugiyama is really enjoying spending more time in Việt Nam. —VNS Photo Lê Hương

Norwegian ambassador to Việt Nam Grete Lochen highlighted that Henrik Ibsen’s themes are still relevant and universal; it’s not just about Norway but more importantly the dimensions between modernity and traditions.

“His messages work equally well today as a hundred years ago,” she said.

Although Việt Nam and Norway are far apart, we all know that culture brings people together and has a common language, she said.

“I think this will be an exciting event both for Norway and Việt Nam and it also had an element of Japan as the director is a Japanese director. I’m excited to see how the Japanese director will together with Vietnamese actors interpret Hedda Gabler…” she said.

Now Sugiyama creates theatre works mainly in Tokyo, Japan. He participates with his company in domestic and international theatre festivals and does theatre workshops in Asian countries as “the education programme for communication through theatre play” for local children, under the support of the Japan Foundation.

Meritorious Artist Nguyễn Sĩ Tiến, director of the Youth Theatre, admits that Sygiyama has a special love for Vietnamese theatre.

“He has many plans to work longer here and make more contributions to Vietnamese theatre,” Tiến said. “For this play, he has many expectations, too. He hopes to win Vietnamese audience’s hearts with this play and wants to bring it to international festivals.” VNS