DramaNorth WestReview

Hikikomori: The Shelter – The Lowry, Salford

Writer: Joris Mathieu with Haut et Court art collective

Director: Joris Mathieu

Reviewer: Jo Beggs

Teenagers can be hard to deal with. In this confusing world, Japan has coined a name for the phenomenon of self-imposed isolation where teens lock themselves away in their rooms and refuse to communicate – Hikikomori.

Nils is in the grips of it. His parents are at the end of their tether as to what to do. They coax and cajole. They feed and water him through a slot in the door like a high-security prisoner. His father’s almost at the point of taking an axe to the bedroom door.

When Nils reads Native American folklore on the internet and buys into the idea of a spirit animal, things begin to get even more confusing for mum and dad.

Hikikomori is an experimental piece of performance by Lyon-based French company, Haut et Court, who bring the work to the Lowry as part of theWeek 53festival. Now an annual fixture in the programme, Week 53 aims to hand the building over to artists to create new work for the “compulsively curious”.

Haut et Court have certainly made a playful piece of theatre. Every member of the audience gets a set of headphones through which they experience the play from one of three different perspectives – mum, dad and Nils. There’s much sharing after the show about what everyone else heard – and, it seems, it’s three very different perspectives on this strange little tale.

Hikikomori is a technically complex show. Played on a stripped back set, with an in-set box where projections and live action blend together, there are beautiful, dreamlike sequences where the performers seem to float, vanish and transform. But the technical equally lets the show down. The projections and action inside the box is almost too dark to see. In the Lowry’s Quays Theatre much of the intimate action is lost, and the set design (by Nicolas Baudier and Joris Mathieu), which includes a raised edge at the front of the stage, completely obscures much of the live action, which takes place on the floor.

While visually beautiful, the thing that fails to engage in this hour of immersive theatre is the script. Whether this is due to it being performed in translation (by Catherine Hargreaves) is hard to tell, but the father’s narrative (which this reviewer experienced) is a dull, drowsy monologue – neither lyrical poetry nor gripping story. It’s hard to care whether Nils is ever going to come out of his room, or if his parents will survive this ordeal. The word in the foyer was that Nils’s own story was the more interesting one, but it would be a trial to sit through the show again to find out.

Runs until 18 May | Image: Contributed

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