In Michael John LaChiusa’s See What I Wanna See, we’re whisked from the final embrace of Kesa (Cassie Compton) and Morito (Mark Goldthorp), an adulterous couple in medieval Japan who are both independently minded to knife each other mid-coitus, to a prison cell in 1951 New York, where all five cast members provide clashing witness statements relating to a grisly stabbing in Central Park.
Confused? The production is based on three short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. The only characteristic they initially appear to share is their dissimilarity, but are sewn together by the filmic buoyancy of LaChiusa’s score and its witty lyrics. Richard Bates’s band undulate between jazz, blues and Sondheim-esque episodes, supporting Adam Lenson’s cast of excellent singers and storytellers as they offer us a sequence of miraculous continuity.
The five different perspectives intersect inventively, harmonising sonically, metaphorically, and through exceptional stagecraft. Part of the Husband’s (Goldthorp) account of his stabbing is told from beyond the grave by a medium (Sarah Ingram). She’s superbly earnest as she parallels his words and gestures. Is Compton’s glittering and inscrutable Wife heartbroken as she watches her husband lie dying, or is she free at last from his mother’s overly-salted pasta and his terrible taste in scarves? Handed back to Goldthorp, the hated scarf is resourcefully repurposed as the blood that spills from his stab-wound.
In the second act, we revisit the Japanese couple’s tryst from Morito’s perspective, before returning to the Central Park of 2002. Disillusionment hangs in the air following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Priest (Jonathan Buterell) has lost his faith, but can he play a “terrible joke” and con everyone around him into anticipating a miracle? See What I Wanna See hinges on the idea that it is impossible to arrive at a single “true” narrative of an event. Instead, Lenson’s production allows us to revel in the clashing and sympathising perspectives of this vibrant collection of personalities.
There’s not much in the way of scenery: the Central Parks of both 1951 and 2002 are represented by a single tree, but James Smith’s faultless lighting design works in tandem with Claria Vaughan’s choreography to fantastic effect. Every switch in the narrative is a moment of absolute clarity.
By Rosalind Stone
See What I Wanna See is on at Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street SW1Y 6ST, until 3 October. Tickets: £25/£20. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.