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Edinburgh Fringe 2009

David Leddy’s ‘White Tea’

Venue: Assembly@George Street


Low Down

Take a seat in a white-papered Japanese tea room, take a sip of your white tea, and become immersed in the world of David Leddy’s new play. Charting the journey of two women, as they uncover family secrets and make connections across cultures, ‘White Tea’ has delicate top notes of strong visual design and atmosphere – and there’s plenty going on in the writing underneath too, with subtle themes and phrases resonating throughout.



David Leddy’s latest production takes place in a tiny box room turned Japanese tea salon: walls papered in white, origami cranes dangling from the ceiling, the small audience seated on all four sides and provided with white paper kimonos and cups of white tea. The significance of our kimonos and tea, and our place in the narrative, won’t become apparent till later, but the delicate, minimalist setting nicely immerses the audience in the ambience of the piece from the beginning. While the low tea table becomes a stage for the cast of two, the walls become screens on which projections play, used to visually set a scene or allude to past events, transporting us to Tokyo or recalling the devastation of the atom bomb.

The play tells the story of Naomi, a Scot living in Paris who was adopted by a famous Japanese peace activist. Her notoriety and hard-working, jet-setting lifestyle resulted in some pretty poor parenting, and the brusque Naomi is still trying to pretend she doesn’t care. But then Tomoko, her mother’s Japanese nurse, shows up to persuade her to visit Kyoto and her now very sick mother. What follows is their journey – towards each other, as a bond forms between the women; into Naomi’s past, to untangle a web of tragic family history; and towards acceptance between mother and daughter, between the differences in culture of east and west.

Leddy’s script is superb; the twists and turns of the tale are satisfying and carefully plotted, but more skilful still are the motifs and imagery that wind throughout it. Green apples, white tea and white paper, the words and music of Yoko Ono, hair-stoking and ‘bones touching’, all surface and re-surface (and memory itself, its instability, is important here – Naomi’s job we are told early on is in researching false memory). This is a play that continues to chime even after you’ve slipped off the kimono.

Both actors give good performances, in very different ways. While Gabriel Quigley is frequently infuriating as Naomi, this seems appropriate for her character, whose bluster is almost pitifully clearly a front. By contrast, Alisa Anderson as Tomoko is all restraint: her English hesitant, her movements slow, precise, graceful – as if every action were part of a traditional tea drinking ceremony. And tradition and ceremony are crucial within the play; in contrast to official Japanese rituals, we are also shown Naomi’s personal ceremonies, her coping mechanisms, in which she recreates of some of Yoko Ono’s performance pieces (this sound ridiculous, but makes perfect sense within the production, another testament to Leddy’s writing and Quigley’s stage presence.)

The emotional intensity of the piece threatens to overwhelm it at times – as the revelations come thick and fast, some audience members might feel the material is a little overwrought, or soggy with pathos. But for me it managed to stay just on the right side, a delicately designed theatrical experience that was poignant but not sentimental.