The Lowry, Salford; Thursday 17th May, 2018
Named after the Japanese term for the very modern phenomenon of self-imposed isolation, Hikikomori is an outstanding piece of theatre which casts an intriguing light upon the dreaded fear of chronic loneliness and the terrible impact it has on a family.
Set in a high-tech future world, the story revolves around Nils – a shy and introverted young boy, probably not unlike countless millions of teenagers who struggle to adapt to the awkward and eventful transition from childhood to the adult world.
Suffering from bullying at the hands of other children, Nils is teased at school for being the Son of a Newb – his parents are disparagingly referred to as Digital Newbies: hopelessly old fashioned, still stuck in the world of wooden toys, as Nils puts it.
So one day, having decided that he’s simply had enough, Nils decides to close his bedroom door and never come out again.
Hikikomori is an exquisitely beautiful piece of theatre, the visual effects are stunning. As Nils himself says: when most people listen to a story they want a satisfactory ending, but sometimes the beginning can be just as interesting. At the front of the stage Nils’ parents persist in vain to try and lure him out from his bedroom lair, yet in the background is Nils’ explanation of how it all came to be, all delivered through beautiful video projections – ghostly imagery which the performers seem to merge in and out of seamlessly, the boundary between video projection and real-life human being is so blurred it becomes awe-inspiring.
Visual effects are not the only outstanding element of this show. In a rather unusual twist, audience members are given a set of headphones which deliver one of three listening possibilities: the mother; the father; or Nils himself. As the performance plays out, not knowing what the other two are thinking is a powerful indicator of just how complex this overall conundrum is – who is right and who is wrong? Is there perhaps another voice that needs to be heard? Surely somebody can crack this problem of the boy who wants to be alone?
There are no answers given in this performance, just as in real life, the phenomenon is portrayed as fiendishly complex and deeply perplexing. Sometimes, we all just want to be left alone, Hikikomori provides a fascinating example of just how extreme that need can become.
Loneliness is something that we are all programmed to fear, we all possess an entirely natural and inbuilt instinct to seek out the company of others. We get lavished with attention as children and then, when we grow up, we go and seek it out for ourselves, loneliness is something that is usually very easily solved and avoided. Yet Hikikomori presents this otherwise pitiful condition in such a beautiful way that it literally becomes appealing, as if it is some magical fantasy land that we should all perhaps consider moving to permanently.
|Visual pleasure||With a set depicting a futuristic house with minimalist decor, the opening scenes are disturbingly cold and sinister. But the explanatory scenes / sequences are just incredible, the combination of video projection with the performers stepping in and out of the shadows are just jaw-droppingly beautiful.||5|
|Auditory pleasure||In summary, the Quays Theatre’s sound system seemed to be playing music on the loudspeakers as normal, but the headphones given to each audience member served to amplify the minute scratches and shuffles coming from the on-body microphones on stage; as well as adding a very, very heavy dose of echoing reverberation. The effect was stunning: crystal-clear high frequency sounds through the headphones; whilst the body still gently shook from the basses generated by the main theatre speakers. Even the sounds of audience members coughing became part of the echo effect, the stereophonic delivery passing from ear to ear was literally dizzying. Being sat in the best seats in the house, right on the apex of the theatre’s surround sound architecture still wouldn’t have been as good as what was being delivered to each and every audience member through their headphones.||5|
|Architecture & Theme||The core themes of self-imposed isolation and retreat into a safe space come across incredibly powerfully. The depictions of loneliness are so romantic, it genuinely comes across as a desirable and pleasurable state to be in. And there is a mysterious and exhilarating thrill in knowing that there are two alternative stories out there that could yet shed more light on the baffling mystery that is Hikikomori.||5|
|Artistic delivery||The other components of this show are so strong that the actual acting performances of the three cast members are almost reduced to insignificance. Sound and vision is where this show shines, the (excellent) tiny bit extra added by the actors truly turns this into an epic stage performance, adding enough to lift it above and beyond anything that e.g. television could deliver.||4|
|Overall impact||This is a stunning piece of visual and auditory theatre, I could have watched the bedroom / dream sequences all day long. Part of me is itching to go back twice more, to hear the other two stories and to experience how the visuals and music differ when told through another voice; but I also feel a strange sense of contentment, as if I now perhaps understand a little bit better why someone would choose to take “being my my own for a while” to such extremes.||5|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|