“Can’t you say a word?” he asks his friend. Well, no: there’s nobody there, nobody else on stage—only Yuuya Ishizone, who is writer, director, and sole performer of this piece from Japanese theatre company My Complex. Tent is the story of two men who, after driving up a mountain to go hiking on the surrounding slopes, lose the car keys and find themselves locked out. Nothing’s for it except to camp out tonight in the eponymous two-manner and descend back to the nearest village in the morning. While his friend rests in the tent, Ishizone’s character keeps a video diary, confesses his fears and anxieties—“You know what? I get panicked on the packed commuter train”—and reflects on his experiences as a Japanese man living abroad in the UK: “Wherever you go, whatever you do, you are Japanese all together.”
Tent doesn’t pursue this idea all that far. It doesn’t pursue many of its ideas very far, in fact, because it is more interested in teeing itself up for twist that’s as banal as it is predictable. For this pair of hikers, it’s amazingly difficult to get through a single cold night, perhaps because of the blizzard of dramatic tropes and clichés drumming on the tent’s polyester sides. Though it’s mostly unrealised, there’s potential here; the talented Ishizone should have the courage of his convictions, follow his script’s lines of inquiry further, and cut back on the potted-existentialist truisms; in his unreliable, energetic, and self-doubting performance, there are the seeds of a compelling character, if only that character could find something to talk about other than his own position in the play’s symbolic apparatus.
One moment that stands out. Ishizone goes into the tent and disappears from view. For a few moments it’s quiet. No movement, no sound, just quiet, lasting longer than we in the audience expect. We look at each other. We’re sort-of in his presence, sort-of on our own. I don’t mean to come off obsessed with it, but, because they are unsettling and disarming and make us think about presence and absence, these seconds of emptiness are the most powerful part of this all-too-often-empty play.