Just outside Adelaide’s Himeji Gardens, a troop of five young performers bring the story of Sadako Sasaki and her thousand cranes to life. The Gemini Collective received the Australian Theatre Guide’s award for Best Youth Theatre in 2019, and subsequently adapted their production of A Thousand Cranes for schools and outdoor performances. Replacing stage lighting with sun and shade, the show succeeds in giving the audience a close and personal view into the immediate and ongoing effects of the 1945 atomic bomb.
Sadako is an enthusiastic schoolgirl in training for a race she hopes to win. Her childhood aspirations and zest for life are shared with friend Kenji as they run, play and joke together. What starts as a little stumble while running, quickly turns sombre as the diagnosis of leukaemia is made and linked back to the devastating events of the Hiroshima atomic bomb years ago. “What’s wrong with Sadako? Why did she fall?” The voices resonate past Sadako’s head to impact the surrounding audience.
The show progresses with an overlay of counting voices, culminating victoriously at one thousand. Sadako’s cranes are completed, but the counting also signifies the end of her life on earth. The same bomb that claimed the life of her grandmother years ago works its effects insidiously in Sadako’s body and tragically steals her away as well. Despite her prognosis, Sadako holds on to hope and the statue of her outstretched arms remains in Hiroshima today, a reminder to humanity to let peace prevail.
“This is our cry.
This is our prayer.
Peace in the world.”
Based on the play by Kathryn Schulz Miller, the Gemini Collective’s rendition of Sadako’s story conveys her childhood innocence brilliantly. The playful banter of Sadako and Kenji adds a dimension of familiarity to the characters that makes her illness and death even more poignant. Along the way, Sadako’s grandmother acts as a comforting ancestral guide. There are short testimonials from a few other characters whose spirits speak their memories of the day when the bright flash of the atomic bomb changed their lives forever. The inclusion of these stories, along with the portrayal of Sadako’s relationship with her grandmother, highlights the impact of the bomb on countless families through time.
Madeline Flapper plays the leading role of Sadako. Her performance on the aerial silks beautifully conveys the imagery of Sadako’s memorial statue and her spirit in the likeness of a crane, “run[ning] like the wind”. The supporting cast of Calin Diamond, Taylor Tran, Iman Saleh, and Arwen Diamond show aptitude across performing platforms as they swap in and out of roles that include singing, acting, dancing, and instrumental accompaniment.
Sarah Williams’ choreography is gracefully executed and gives the impression of reaching out for hope. The accompanying musical score, created by Jennifer Trijo, compliments playful and nostalgic moments in the story, and Anthony Butler’s design uses simple props and costuming to great effect.
As a portable outdoor theatre experience, the sound quality is surprisingly clear. The Himeji gardens are adjacent to the performance space, and a row of Japanese-themed stalls offer a selection of jewellery, mochi, and matcha flavoured bites. For those attending upcoming performances, it is advisable to bring your own picnic rug. The stalls accept both cash and card with proceeds from some sales, including all tickets for the 4.00 pm show on 1 March, being donated to a family affected by childhood leukaemia.
A Thousand Cranes gives victims of the atomic bomb a fitting tribute with music, theatre, dance, and a dash of aerial acrobatics. It interprets Sadako’s emotional journey through illness and death in a reflective manner, and is a reminder that the scars of war can carry through across generations. Despite the tragedy of Sadako’s story, the show also reminds us that hope prevails despite suffering, and that family and friends are valuable supporters.
The weather was perfect for the show’s Saturday performance and it was a novel experience to enjoy theatre in a relaxed, picnic setting. The Gemini Collective have done a fantastic job adapting their award winning show for the outdoors, and I look forward to seeing their future projects!
Reviewed performance: Saturday 29 February 2020