Edinburgh Fringe 2011
This piece is set in the main in a hospital, as Sadako discovers the very real possibility of her own death – and how she and her best friend can cope with her incoming mortality. But, while the characters are confined to hospital walls, their hopes – and imaginations – allow them to soar far higher, and beyond.
The piece takes a little while to get going – two fizzy and engaging performers describing what’s going on in the forced jollity-style of Jackanory storytellers, both apparently unaware that the tracksuit and haircut of one makes them look surprisingly similar to Sue Sylvester from Glee. This earnestness however soon gives way to the reality that death is unavoidable, and that Sadako will soon be leaving, for good. It’s based on a true story, and the real Sadako, caught one mile from Ground Zero when the bomb fell on Hiroshima, is a product of that time – a young girl living (and dying) in the 1940s, spurred on by the Japanese legend that anyone who folds one thousand paper cranes will be granted one wish.
This idea is presented by an aged hospital cleaner (played, as all the parts are, by one of the two performers) who suggests ‘I don’t know if you can help her. But you can cheer her up’. And it’s this that forms the bulk of the story: while it’s apparent that both have the childish belief that their most wanted, and most impossible wish, will be eventually granted, there is a sombre shadow over the piece’s attempts at brightness and jollity.
The two performers are very engaging, and involve you in the narrative with an ease. It’s a little simpler than you might expect – indeed, the only moments where awe is attempted is where the titular paper cranes are repeatedly made – but, of course, this is its charm: this is a private little world, where studious origami can save a live, even if it cannot literally stop death.
In the end, though, it’s all about the end. It’s a story that will be sadly familiar to many who have had to watch a young child die: the thing that gives them hope, and vibrancy, is the very thing that exhausts their already tired frame. Quite the most interesting moments to the adults in the audience are when Sadako’s mother bans her best friend from visiting the hospital, sincerely believing that it’s for the best (in a very subtle way, this illustrates the gulf between the children’s and adults world far more effectively than anything else in the hour), and the – achingly inevitable – moment when Chizuko, her best friend, discovers the result of their paper-folding. Popular culture tells us that Sadako’s last words were ‘It’s good’ – actually in reference to what was to be her final meal. It’s comforting to know that the phrase can equally be applied to this.